All pollinators, including the most well-known ones – bees – subsist on a rich and varied diet, the staple of which are pollen and nectar supplied by trees, bushes and other flowering plants. Nectar gives the pollinators the energy to go about their day, while pollen is used as building blocks for the organisms of their offspring. A healthy bee needs high quality food, but obtaining it isn’t that simple. Dr Zuzanna Filipiak and Dr Michał Filipiak from the JU Institute of Environmental Sciences investigate this issue in their research project.
Pollen is composed of many organic substances such as fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and amino acids. All of those chemical compounds are build out of distinct chemical elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, copper, zinc and about 20 others – arranged into different configurations. As their name suggests, carbohydrates are built from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Other organic substances that are necessary to keep an organism in good condition feature other elements as well. They need to be incorporated into the bodies of insects through pollen. But does every plant produce pollen that contains all the ingredients required to ‘build’ a healthy bee? Researchers argue that it’s not the case.
It’s highly probable that pollen produced by different plants contains different proportions of chemical elements, which is often detrimental to bees. During its early developmental stages, a bee has access only to those ‘building blocks’ that are readily available in its environment, and often it contains too little of one compound and too much of another. Bearing this in mind, the researchers from the JU Institute of Environmental Sciences compared the effects of bees feeding on pollen with insufficient amount of sodium, potassium and zinc as opposed to pollen enriched with these elements. It turned out the lack of these elements negatively impacts young bees by increasing mortality rate, decreasing their overall mass, and inhibiting the development of cocoons.
Every adverse effect was related to a particular element as well as the sex of the bees. The study was conducted in a laboratory which allowed for precise control of all environmental factors in order to ensure maximum reliability. This phenomenon can be observed in wild bee populations, where lack of sodium, potassium and zinc also leads to bees suffering from impaired development. This, in turn, affects every bee colony, as a high number of sick bees can cause their entire population to plummet.
Decrease in plant diversity and the outright extinction of some species are thought to be major factors in the drop of pollinator populations around the world. Currently, efforts are being made to reduce the number of dying pollinators by cutting out pesticides and increasing the quality of food available to them.
Compiling a comprehensive list of chemical elements required for the development of healthy bees is crucial for devising a plan on how to help pollinators get all the nutrition they need. With the knowledge of how the chemical composition of pollen affects bees’ health and which plants produce the highest quality pollen, we could provide optimal nutrition in areas where pollinator populations are at risk.
Based on a paper published in MDPI Open Access Journals: Filipiak, et al. “The Scarcity of Specific Nutrients in Wild Bee Larval Food Negatively Influences Certain Life History Traits” Biology (2021)
Original text: www.nauka.uj.edu.pl