ASU researcher finds clues to bee survival


According to new research done at Arizona State University, having the right bees "pick up the food" is how honeybees successfully exploit their environments so colonies thrive. Similar to bosses figuring out which of their employees are the most reliable, bees are excellent at distinguishing which of their comrades are best fit to perform each specific task for the hive.

To make the most of their time, animals must decide which of their group members must go explore new places for a new source of food and who should stay at familiar places to collect resources. Bees do this by dividing the work between two groups of individuals: scouts for new places and recruits for the old ones.

Chelsea Cook is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the lead author on a new paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology about the newly discovered bee behavior. She says that due to a constant stream of information occurring within an environment, some are better than others at focusing on one task at a time.

The brains of scout bees are different from the brains of recruit bees. Cook and her co-authors found that scouts have elevated levels of the neurotransmitter tyramine in their brains. After behavioral tests, recruits have lower amounts of another neurotransmitter, octopamine, in their brains compared with scouts.

It is crucial for each bee to be able to do its assigned task since surviving is time sensitive. Flowers only bloom for so long so the bees with the right attention span must have the capacity to gather food within the allotted time. Cook stated, “It’s this delicate balance that the whole colony has to be able to figure out to effectively feed the entire society.”

Although scientists are still unable to answer questions about how bees pollinate for human food productions, the newfound research is a glimpse into the abyss of answers they are searching for. “Understanding how individuals interact with their landscape allows us to understand what cues they are using in their environment to choose what food to collect,” Cook said. “This is especially important in social groups, as the society’s survival depends on the collective work of many individuals.”