Washington | Scientists have discovered that the stress of short-term nutritional deprivation in baby honey bees makes them more resilient to starvation as adults. A lack of adequate nutrition is blamed as one of many possible causes for colony collapse disorder or CCD – a mysterious syndrome that causes a honey bee colony to die.
Parasites, pesticides, pathogens and environmental changes are also stressors believed responsible for the decline of honey bees. Since bees are critical to the world’s food supply, learning how bees cope with these stressors is critical to understanding honey bee health and performance.
Surprisingly, we found that short-term starvation in the larval stage makes adult honey bees more adaptive to adult starvation. This suggests that they have an anticipatory mechanism like solitary organisms do, said study lead author Ying Wang, from the Arizona State University (ASU). Wang said they found evidence of this mechanism in several areas such as behavior, endocrine physiology, metabolism and gene regulation.
The anticipatory mechanism, also called predictive adaptive response, explains a possible correlation between prenatal nutritional stress and adult metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes in humans. The research shows for the first time that social organisms can have this mechanism.
The researchers also found that when bees experienced starvation as larvae, they could reduce their metabolic rate, maintain their blood sugar levels, and use other fuels faster than the control bees during starvation. This increased the probability of their survival under a starvation situation.
These studies show how the fundamental physiology of animals separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution maintain central, common features that allow us to learn more about ourselves from studying them and about them by looking to ourselves, said Rob Page from ASU. They reveal key features of honey bee physiology that may help us find solutions to the serious problems of bee health world wide, Page said.
Managed honey bee colonies have declined worldwide, down to 2.5 million today from 5 million in the 1940s. This comes at a time when the global demand for food is rising to meet the nutrition needs of 7.4 billion people. Since multiple stressors are negatively impacting bee health, Wang’s new findings may provide a different strategy to help solve the problem of colony collapse disorder.
Manipulations during development may be able to increase the bees’ resistance to different stressors, much like how an immunization works, said Wang.