CATCH THE BUZZ: Stressed Colonies And Too Young Foragers

Stressed Colonies Send Out Young Foragers That Don’t Return. Pressure on young bees to grow up too fast could be a major factor in colony collapse disorder.

That’s the conclusion of researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), Macquarie University in Sydney, Washington University in St Louis, and the University of Sydney after they attached radio trackers to thousands of bees and followed their movements throughout their lives.

Bees usually begin foraging when they are two to three weeks old, but when bee colonies are stressed by disease, a lack of food, or other factors that kill off older bees, the younger bees start foraging at a younger age.

The researchers found that bees that started foraging younger completed less foraging flights than others and were more likely to die on their first flights.

Any stress leading to chronic forager death of the normally older bees led to an increasingly young foraging force. This younger foraging population lead to poorer performance and quicker deaths of foragers and dramatically accelerated the decline of the colony much like observations of CCD seen around the world.

QMUL School of Biological and Chemical Sciences researcher Clint Perry says young bees leaving the hive early is likely to be an adaptive behavior to a reduction in the number of older foraging bees.

“If the increased death rate continues for too long or the hive isn’t big enough to withstand it in the short term, this natural response could upset the societal balance of the colony and have catastrophic consequences,” Perry says.

“Our results suggest that tracking when bees begin to forage may be a good indicator of the overall health of a hive. Our work sheds light on the reasons behind colony collapse and could help in the search for ways of preventing colony collapse.”

Alan Harman