With new technology paving the way for more intensive sustainable farming, like the use of monocultures and commercial forestry, a new study has revealed that honeybees are finding it harder to fight off diseases and to store food.
As our global population increases, we are finding new and more landscape changing ways to ensure we can feed ourselves.
This may be good for us, but the honeybees, which are vital for natural pollination and biodiversity, are dealing with the brunt of the consequences.
These new agricultural and resource strategies are affecting the diversity if the ‘microbiome’ associated with honeybees and their long-term food supply.
The study, led by the University of Lancaster at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), included them treating and examining a set of different bacteria.
They found that the bee bread within hives close to agriculturally improved grasslands, made up of single grass varieties, and those near coniferous woodlands contained lower bacterial diversity than hives near habitats with more plant variety such as broadleaf woodland, rough grasslands, and coastal landscapes. The researchers used a combination of two technologies — Illumina MiSeq DNA sequencing and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis — to identify the microbial communities of nearly 500 bee bread samples taken from 29 honeybee hives across North West England.
The problem is that bees need a range of bacteria to fight off diseases and help them store food, without these made available to them, the bees can be made vulnerable to a host of infections and mould.
The mould can infest the hive which would eradicate their food supply. Strangely, the researchers also discovered that some of the bacteria present within bee bread, such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacilli, are the same ‘good bacteria’ as found in some brands of bioactive yoghurts.
The lead author of ‘Bacterial communities associated with honeybee food stores are correlated with land use’ stated that “it is traditionally thought that monocultures, such as grazing land and timber forests, were bad for pollinators due to a lack of food continuance through the year.
However, our study suggests land use change may also be having an indirect detrimental effect on the microbiota of bee bread”.
Because these microbiome bacterial strains are not being picked up by bees because of vast landscape changes, we are not only harming bees, we are harming ourselves. In urban areas, bees are especially at risk because there is a lower diversity of microbiome.
There are a few actions which you can do at home, especially if you are an avid gardener or horticulturist. Those trying to help at home may wish to consider that non-native species may not be as good for bees as native UK plants.
Dr Donkersley said: “Decreased bacterial diversity in bee breads near urban environments suggests that the increased range of non-native plants in gardens could be impacting bees’ ability to get diverse microbiota.P