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  1. In temperate climates, honey bees show strong phenotypic plasticity associated with seasonal changes. In summer, worker bees typically only survive for about a month and can be further classified as young nurse bees (which feed the developing brood) and older forager bees. In winter, brood production and foraging halts and the worker bees live several months. These differences in task and longevity are reflected in their physiology, with summer nurses and long-lived winter bees typically having larger fat bodies, high expression levels of vitellogenin (a longevity, nutrition, and immune-related gene), and larger provisioning glands in their head. The environmental factors (both within the colony and within the surrounding environment) that trigger this transition to long-lived winter bees are poorly understood. One theory suggests is that winter bees are an extended nurse bee state, brought on by a reduction in nursing duties in the fall (i.e., lower brood area). We examine that theory here by assessing nurse bee physiology in both the summer and fall, in colonies with varying levels of brood. We find that season is a better predictor of nurse bee physiology than brood area. This finding suggests that seasonal factors beyond brood area, such as pollen availability and colony demography, may be necessary for inducing the winter bee phenotype. This finding furthers our understanding of winter bee biology, which could have important implications for colony management for winter, a critical period for colony survival.

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  2. Abstract

    Pollinators are an essential component of terrestrial food webs and agricultural systems but are threatened by insufficient access to floral resources. Managed honey bees, as generalist foragers that hoard nectar as honey, can act as bioindicators of floral resources available to pollinators in a given landscape through their accumulation of honey. Honey yields across the United States have decreased appreciably since the 1990s, concurrent with shifts in climate, land-use, and large-scale pesticide application. While many factors can affect honey accumulation, this suggests that anthropogenic stressors may be having large-scale impacts on the floral resources that pollinators depend on for their nutrition. We used hierarchical partitioning on five decades of state-level data to parse the most important environmental factors and likely mechanisms associated with spatial and temporal variation in honey yields across the US. Climatic conditions and soil productivity were among the most important variables for estimating honey yields, with states in warm or cool regions with productive soils having the highest honey yields per colony. These findings suggest that foundational factors constrain pollinator habitat suitability and define ecoregions of low or high honey production. The most important temporally varying factors were change in herbicide use, land use (i.e. increase in intensive agriculture and reduction in land conservation programs that support pollinators) and annual weather anomalies. This study provides insights into the interplay between broad abiotic conditions and fine temporal variation on habitat suitability for honey bees and other pollinators. Our results also provide a baseline for investigating how these factors influence floral resource availability, which is essential to developing strategies for resilient plant–pollinator communities in the face of global change.

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  3. Climate change poses a threat to organisms across the world, with cold-adapted species such as bumble bees (Bombus spp.) at particularly high risk. Understanding how organisms respond to extreme heat events associated with climate change as well as the factors that increase resilience or prime organisms for future stress can inform conservation actions. We investigated the effects of heat stress within different contexts (duration, periodicity, with and without access to food, and in the laboratory versus field) on bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) survival and heat tolerance. We found that both prolonged (5 h) heat stress and nutrition limitation were negatively correlated with worker bee survival and thermal tolerance. However, the effects of these acute stressors were not long lasting (no difference in thermal tolerance among treatment groups after 24 h). Additionally, intermittent heat stress, which more closely simulates the forager behavior of leaving and returning to the nest, was not negatively correlated with worker thermal tolerance. Thus, short respites may allow foragers to recover from thermal stress. Moreover, these results suggest there is no priming effect resulting from short- or long-duration exposure to heat – bees remained equally sensitive to heat in subsequent exposures. In field-caught bumble bees, foragers collected during warmer versus cooler conditions exhibited similar thermal tolerance after being allowed to recover in the lab for 16 h. These studies offer insight into the impacts of a key bumble bee stressor and highlight the importance of recovery duration, stressor periodicity and context on bumble bee thermal tolerance outcomes. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024