Microbiome of Solitary Bees
Bees are the single most important pollinators of flowering plants worldwide. More than 85 percent of the 325,000 flowering plant species on Earth depend on animals for pollination, and the vast majority of pollination is carried out by bees. The economic viability of United States agricultural production is dependent on stable and healthy wild and domesticated bee populations.
However, bee populations are threatened by a variety of factors, including habitat loss, pathogen spillover, invasive plants and animals, and pesticide use. These can disrupt the normal microbial symbionts essential for bee larval development (the brood cell microbiome).
Bryan N. Danforth, Entomology, is working to understand what role microbes play in the larval nutrition in a wide variety of bee species. Previous research has documented a diverse community of bacteria and yeasts in the pollen and nectar diet of bees. As larvae consume the pollen/nectar provisions, they are ingesting microbes. Danforth’s preliminary results indicate that these microbes form an essential component of the larval diet.
In this project, Danforth is documenting the microbial diversity in flowers and pollen provisions, determining the nutritional role of microbes in larval development and health. He’s understanding how alterations in microbial community impact larval development.
These studies are providing a comprehensive understanding of how bees and flowering plants interact via their shared microbial partners. The work provides essential information for developing long-term bee conservation efforts and has the potential to significantly modify how the scientific community views the 120 million-year-old partnership between bees and flowering plants.