Young forager bees suggest a hive in trouble

Bee colonies that send unusually young bees out to forage for food could be at risk of collapse, new modelling shows.

Declining bee populations have alarmed scientists worldwide, who say that food crops could fail if there aren’t enough bees left to help pollinate plants.

All colonies allocate the job of foraging for food, pollen and water to mature bees but when diseases or pesticides decimate forager numbers, the hive will send younger bees out to replace them.

New research by academics at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University shows that the younger foragers may not be up to the task, potentially accelerating hive collapse.

“So overall you have fewer hive bees and the foragers you do have do not have mature brains, so they are most likely to get lost or die. It all spirals down from there,” said the University of Sydney’s Dr Mary Myerscough. “So this is not a cause but it is one of the things that potentially contributes to colony collapse.”

By identifying the link between younger foragers and hive stress, the research gives apiarists a new tool to help identify hives in trouble.

“You can mark bees by age so when you see your bees are becoming foragers at an unexpectedly young age, you know your hive is under stress. So you can feed the hive or look after them a bit in the hope they can come good again,” said Dr Myerscough.

Read more at Macquarie University