They buzz toward a blossom, sip nectar, and then head for another blossom. Typical, right?
But there's much more going on than you think.
It's not just the nectar that she's scented.
UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette has just published a paper in New Phytologist journal that shows nectar-living microbes release scents or volatile compounds, too, and can influence a pollinator's foraging preference.
The groundbreaking research shows that nectar-inhabiting species of bacteria and fungi “can influence pollinator preference through differential volatile production,” said Vannette, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“This extends our understanding of how microbial species can differentially influence plant phenotype and species interactions through a previously overlooked mechanism,” Vannette said. “It's a novel mechanism by which the presence and species composition of the microbiome can influence pollination.”
“Broadly, our results imply that the microbiome can contribute to plant volatile phenotype,” she said. “This has implications for many plant-insect interactions.”
Their paper, titled “Nectar-inhabiting Microorganisms Influence Nectar Volatile Composition and Attractiveness to a Generalist Pollinator,” may explain in part the previous documented extreme variation floral volatiles that Robert Junker of University of Salzburg, Austria, and his team found; New Phytologist published their work in March 2017.
In their study, the Vannette team researchers first examined field flowers for the presence of nectar-inhabiting microbes, and in collaboration with co-authors Caitlin Rering and John Beck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Gainesville, Fla, characterized the headspace of four common fungi and bacteria in a nectar analog. Next, they used an intricate setup to quantify the antennal and behavior responses of honey bees to the chemical compounds. Finally, when they examined the scent of flowers in the field, they found that flowers which contained high densities of microorganisms also contained volatile compounds likely produced by those microbes, suggesting that microbial scent production can be detected and used by pollinators.
Although microbes commonly inhabit floral nectar, microbial species differ in volatile profiles, they found. “Honey bees detected most of the microbial volatiles or scents that we tested,” Vannette said, “and they distinguished the solutions of yeasts or bacteria based on volatiles only.” This suggests that pollinators could choose among flowers based on the microbes that inhabit those flowers.
The yeast Metschnikowia reukaufii produced the most distinctive compounds (some shared with the fruity flavors in wine) and was the most attractive of all microbes compared. This yeast is commonly found in flower nectar and is thought to hitch a ride on pollinators to travel from one flower to the next. Its scent production may help it attract pollinators, which then help the yeast disperse among flowers.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, provided the honey bees. More than 20 species of flowers--mostly natives--were used in the survey, including canyon delphinium or canyon larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule), sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), salvia (Lepechinia calycina) and purple Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). The samplings were done in the spring and early summer, when the natives are at their peak.
Co-authors of the paper are Caitlin Rering, postdoctoral fellow at USDA-ARS, Gainesville, Fla.; John Beck researcher at USDA-ARS; Griffin Hall, junior specialist in the Vannette lab; and Mitch McCartney in UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
The USDA and USDA-ARS funded the research.
About Rachel Vannette: She joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in September of 2015 from Stanford University where she was a postdoctoral fellow.
A native of Hudsonville, Mich., Vannette received her bachelor of science degree in biology with honors at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and her doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan, in 2011. Her dissertation was entitled “Whose Phenotype Is It Anyway? The Complex Role of Species Interactions and Resource Availability in Determining the Expression of Plant Defense Phenotype and Community Consequences.”
In her PhD research, she examined how variation in nutrient availability and plant associations with mycorrhizal fungi belowground influenced defense chemistry in milkweed plants and the performance of a specialist herbivore (Danaus plexippus). She found that resource-based tradeoffs can in part explain plant allocation to antiherbivore defense and mycorrhizal fungi. This work also describes that plant genotypes vary in their investment in defense and associations with below ground fungi.
As a Stanford University postdoctoral fellow, funded by a life sciences research fellowship, Vannette examined the community ecology of plant-associated microorganisms. Using diverse systems, she studied the assembly of microbial communities, microbial response to anthropogenic changes like habitat fragmentation, and microbial effects on plant-pollinator interactions.
The National Wildlife Research Foundation featured Vannette's research on monarchs and milkweed in its March 11, 2013 piece on “Catering to Butterfly Royalty." The article, by author Doreen Cubie, focused on Vannette's research as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Vannette and advisor Mark Hunter studied five common species of milkweeds, the host plant for monarchs. They found that climate change may disrupt the chemistry of milkweeds, and encouraged gardeners to help the monarchs by planting more of these critical host plants./span>
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."
That will be the topic of honey bee guru Lawrence "Larry" Connor of Kalamazoo, Mich., when he presents a special short course during the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, to take place Sept. 5-8 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), University of California, Davis.
Connor will present the alternative short course, "Keeping Your Bees Alive and Growing," at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 6 for a $50 extra fee, announced WAS president Eric Mussun, Extension apiculturist emeritus.
Said Connor: "We will start with the concepts in Two and a Half Hives: starting with two colonies of bees and making a nucleus the first season. We will show you how to harvest the bees and brood for a nucleus colony. The same system will for anti-swarm management after your first season. We will spend time looking at nucleus management to cycle new, mite-tolerant queens into your beekeeping, including when and how to establish these hives and prepare them for the winter."
He adds: "We will look at the general nature of bee population management—when to grow a hive and what to do when they fail to thrive. We will end with a discussion about establishing and maintaining a sustainable apiary—keeping your bees alive and thriving year to year. If we have time, we will work on your reading list in beekeeping."
A native of Kalamazoo, Connor holds a doctorate in entomology from Michigan State University, and worked as an Extension entomologist in apiculture at The Ohio State University from 1972 to 1976 before accepting a position in Labelle, Fla., to run a new bee breeding program, Genetic Systems, Inc., the world's first mass production facility for the instrumental inseminated queen honey bees.
Connor left Florida in 1980 and began writing books with Wicwas Press LLC, a company he helped found and now owns. He has published more than a dozen titles dealing with bees, beekeeping, queen rearing and pollination. He regularly contributes to Bee Culture and the American Bee Journal magazines, addressing queen and drone biology and management and beekeeper interviews. He is also an accomplished photographer, artist and actor.
Connor will be one of some 16 speakers, ranging from California to Canada, to address the WAS conference. WAS originated at UC Davis.
More information on the conference is available from the WAS website or by contacting Eric Mussen at firstname.lastname@example.org. WAS, open to all interested persons, is a non-profit educational organization, geared for small-scale beekeepers in the western United States.
It's National Honey Bee Day or National Honey Bee Awareness Day, launched in 2009 by newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsak during his first year of office with the Obama Administration.
The goals are the same as those in 2009:
- Promote and advance beekeeping
- Educate the public about honey bees and beekeeping
- Ensure that the public is aware of environmental concerns affecting honey bees
It's a day when we applaud our bees, and the bee scientists, beekeepers, commercial breeders, and all the educational, scientific and research organizations that friend them, fund them, or fuel them.
Indeed, one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. What many folks don't realize is that honey bees are not native to the United States. European colonists brought them here in 1622, and it wasn't until 1853 when a beekeeper in the San Jose area introduced them to California.
Statistics provided by the National Honey Bee Day officials, help tell the story of the industry:
- For every 100 beekeepers, 95 percent are hobbyists, 4 percent are sideliners, and 1 percent are commercial beekeepers.
- Beekeeping dates back at least 4500 years.
- Beekeeping can be a sustainable endeavor.
- Renting bees to farmers in need of pollination generates a source of income.
- Beehives are kept on farms, in backyards, on balconies, and high-rise rooftops, all across the country.
Bees will also take center stage at the 40th annual conference of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) at the University of California, Davis. The conference, to take place Sept. 5-8 in the Activities and Recreation Center, is quite special because the organization was founded at UC Davis. WAS president is Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology promises an educational program, complete with speakers, networking, tours and a silent auction.
Among those speaking will be Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, who will address the crowd on "The Impact of Varroa on Honey Bee Reproductive Castes (Queen Bee, Worker Bee and Drone): Where Will the Research Lead Us?” Her talk is at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Her research interests encompass basic and applied approaches to understanding and improving honey bee health and particularly honey bee queen health. Ongoing research projects include understanding the synergistic effects of pesticides on queen health and adult workers in order to improve beekeeping management practice, testing novel biopesticides for efficacy against varroa mites, a major pest of bees, and understanding the benefits of supplemental forage in almond orchards on honey bee health. (Read her apiary newsletters, access her lab website at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/ or her lab Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/)
Writer Stephanie Parreira of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) recently interviewed Niño for a podcast on bee pests and how to manage them, using IPM methods. The podcast appears on the UC ANR Green Blog. You can read the transcript here.
Niño mentioned that varroa mites remain the key concern of beekeepers. "In fact, when I first started my position here as an extension specialist at UC Davis, I asked beekeepers what is one of the things that they would like me to focus on, and about ninety-nine percent of them said varroa mites," she said in the podcast. "Varroa mites are a problem because they basically suck honey bee blood, or honey bee hemolymph, they transmit viruses, [and] they can suppress immune genes in developing and adult bees. So they can kill the colony, basically, if they're not managed properly. We have seen in our own colonies that if we do not treat or manage varroa mites, we know that we will lose that colony over winter."
If you're interested in attending the WAS conference and learning more about bees, you can register here. The speakers represent a wide spectrum of expertise and topics, from top-bar beekeeping to pesticides to how to keep your colonies healthy. Or, you can contact President Mussen at email@example.com for more information.
You'll learn all about top-bar hives when Les Crowder of Austin, Texas, discusses "Major Considerations in Top Bar Hive Management" at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, set Sept. 5-8 at the University of California, Davis.
Crowder will speak at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 7 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). Registration is still open to attend the conference. See registration.
A top-bar hive is described as a single-story frameless bee hive with the comb hanging from removable bars.
Crowder and Heather Harrell co-authored the book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co. in 2012 and soon to be published in Spanish. He continues to teach and advocate nontoxic management of beehives.
Crowder says he began keeping bees--or the bees began keeping him--in Bernalillo, N.M., more than 40 years ago. "I began began looking for ways to raise bees without antibiotics in my teenage years and have been breeding honey bees for disease and parasite resistance since then. I also began early on to search for ways to regularly renew the combs in beehives because research indicated that old cocoon laden combs become havens for pathogenic fungi and bacteria that stress the bees' resistance to disease."
He built his first top-bar hive in 1979 and eventually begin using them exclusively for his 100-200 hive honey and beeswax business.
In his talk, Crowder will cover spring buildup, swarm prevention and making divides as a topbar beekeeper. In addition, he will compare and contrast top-bar hives with Langstroth hives.
Crowder served as president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association for many years. His credentials also include honey bee inspector for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and beekeeping instructor "in many parts of the world for more than 30 years."
"There's a lot of interest in top-bar hives," said Western Apicultural Society president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus based at UC Davis. He expects an enthusiastic crowd at the four-day conference, which will include a variety of speakers, tours, networking, and a silent auction. See schedule.
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization geared toward the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America, Mussen said. The group encourages membership from all over the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. Contact Mussen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- YouTube videos on Top-Bar Hives:
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Hearther Harrell (Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)
- Bee Culture journal article on top-bar beekeeping