Not All Bees are Hard Workers

Admin | Published 2016-08-16 16:02
    Bees provide us great service by pollinating plants, which has a lot of impact on natural and agricultural ecosystems. We, humans, as a selfish kind like to say that bees are doing a favour to us, but of course, that is not the case. Pollination is a side effect of bees collecting nectar and pollen for their nests. Postdoctoral researcher, Joseph Woodgate, spent his summer in tracking female bumblebees in order to better understand these creatures. Woodgate, alongside with his colleagues at Queen Mary University of London and at Rothamsted Research, published results in PLOS One, following for the first time every flight of forager bees over the course of their lives. This research revealed remarkable tactics taken by different bees in their approach in carrying their tasks. Harmonic radar is used for following the bees since the GPS trackers or radio collars are too heavy and large for these insects. Four large earth bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) which were bred in captivity, were followed until their death.   The flight of each bee changed throughout her life has been observed, and it gave an insight how bees balance their desire to explore as well as their adventures in searching  for food. At the beginning, all of the bees were explored their local area, stopping frequently to sample the flowers available.

Initial exploratory flights of the four bees. Colours represent time in flight, moving from green through yellow to red. Grey dashed lines show estimated routes.

From recording the bees’ movements nearly all discovered their favourite flower patches within their first few flights. One bee abruptly switched her flight path, heading directly toward a place she had discovered on her first ever flight nine days earlier. Until then, she’d never returned, which suggests she was able to remember it all that time.   After this, it seems that bees changed their behaviour, from exploration to exploitation, over the course of their lives. Researchers were interested in how different their bees are. Their bee (A) was shuttled back and forth to a single foraging patch, while the bee (B) (the b bee, yeah it's fun), was a lifetime wanderer. The BB spent most of her time roaming the landscape like a headless chicken, feeding in patches she'd never seen before.

Lifetime recorded flights of the four bees, with colours representing early (green), mid (yellows) and late period (red) flights.

The bees differed in many other ways, for example, the number of flights they undertook, the amount of time they spent in and outside the nest, and the favourite areas they chose to feed. These type of behaving led researchers to think about different strategies bees use, and what is its impact on a colony. Each bee died between six and 15 days after birth. Two of them disappeared, and it looked like they'd fallen into spider's trap, or they were nice food for other predators. "Though watching the flight of the bumblebee is fascinating, practically speaking these insights will help us understand how plant genes flow around the landscape. Insect-pollinated plants reproduce by persuading bees to carry their pollen from one plant to another. When inexperienced bees and vagabonds explore widely, sampling many flowers, they spread plant genes widely compared to when they change to more dedicated pollen and nectar collection.", Woodgate said for The Conversation. source - theconversation.com
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