CATCH THE BUZZ – Short Term Starvation Early in Life Prepares Bees for Future Food Stress

Alan Harman

Short-term starvation as larvae actually makes honey bees more resilient to nutritional deprivation as adults, Arizona State University researchers say.

The unexpected findings in two new studies contradict previous theories blaming a lack of adequate nutrition as one of many possible causes for colony collapse disorder or CCD.

“Surprisingly, we found that short-term starvation in the larval stage makes adult honey bees more adaptive to adult starvation.,” says Ying Wang, assistant research professor with the university’s School of Life Sciences and lead author of the two investigations.

“This suggests that they have an anticipatory mechanism like (sic) solitary organisms do.”

Wang says 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 findings show for the first time that social organisms can have this mechanism.

Wants says since most research on bee nutrition has focused on using adult honey bees, rather than their young, this new information published in two papers in the Journal of Experimental Biology. changes the current understanding of colony collapse disorder and provides new avenues to study.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Arid-Land Research Center; and the University of Life Sciences, Aas, Norway, also participated in the research.

Wang and her colleagues 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.

Co-author Rob Page, university provost emeritus, says the studies reveal key features of honey bee physiology that may help find solutions to the serious problems of bee health worldwide.

As 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,” he says.

“However, we are at a starting point with this new discovery and we will have many questions to be answered.”