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Nutritional composition of honey bee food stores vary with floral composition

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Geraldine Wright



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2017 The Author(s) Sufficiently diverse and abundant resources are essential for generalist consumers, and form an important part of a suite of conservation strategies for pollinators. Honey bees are generalist foragers and are dependent on diverse forage to adequately meet their nutritional needs. Through analysis of stored pollen (bee bread) samples obtained from 26 honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) hives across NW-England, we quantified bee bread nutritional content and the plant species that produced these stores from pollen. Protein was the most abundant nutrient by mass (63%), followed by carbohydrates (26%). Protein and lipid content (but not carbohydrate) contributed significantly to ordinations of floral diversity, linking dietary quality with forage composition. DNA sequencing of the ITS2 region of the nuclear ribosomal DNA gene identified pollen from 89 distinct plant genera, with each bee bread sample containing between 6 and 35 pollen types. Dominant genera included dandelion (Taraxacum), which was positively correlated with bee bread protein content, and cherry (Prunus), which was negatively correlated with the amount of protein. In addition, proportions of amino acids (e.g. histidine and valine) varied as a function of floral species composition. These results also quantify the effects of individual plant genera on the nutrition of honey bees. We conclude that pollens of different plants act synergistically to influence host nutrition; the pollen diversity of bee bread is linked to its nutrient content. Diverse environments compensate for the loss of individual forage plants, and diversity loss may, therefore, destabilize consumer communities due to restricted access to alternative resources.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Donkersley P, Rhodes G, Pickup RW, Jones KC, Power EF, Wright GA, Wilson K

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Oecologia

Year: 2017

Pages: 1-13

Online publication date: 14/10/2017

Acceptance date: 04/10/2017

Date deposited: 02/11/2017

ISSN (print): 0029-8549

Publisher: Springer Verlag


DOI: 10.1007/s00442-017-3968-3


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/1000968/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Wellcome Trust