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Plant resin - an underestimated resource for bees : how honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) and stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini) benefit from a diversity of resin sources

Pflanzenharz - eine unterschätzte Ressource für Bienen: Wie Honigbienen ( Apis mellifera L.) und stachellose Bienen (Apidae: Meliponini) von einer Vielfalt an Harzquellen profitieren

  • Social insects like honeybees (Apis mellifera) and stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini) face a relatively high risk to be attacked by pests and pathogens. To decrease the risk of infection, in addition to an innate immune system, these species have evolved various cooperative defense mechanisms such as hygienic behavior or allo-grooming, which contribute to the overall health of the colonies and are therefore also referred to as social immunity. The collection and use of plant resin is another important strategy of social immunity. Resin is a sticky, often aromatic substance with antimicrobial and deterrent properties secreted by plants for protection of the vegetative tissue. Honeybees and stingless bees take advantage of these properties by using resins for nest construction (often mixtures of resin and wax called “propolis” or “cerumen”) and as defense against pests and pathogens. Plant resins, thus, play a crucial role for the ecology of these species and are an important resource for them. Nevertheless, how bees exploit available resin sources and if resin collection can protect colonies from diseases received comparatively little attention in the past. Therefore the aim of this thesis is to provide new insights into the plant origin and significance as well as the influence of resin resource diversity on bee colony health. Resource use and availability form fundamental prerequisites, having decisive influence on the viability of individuals and maintenance of populations. Information on the resources required by a species is thus important to effectively promote and preserve it. For honeybees (A. mellifera) in temperate regions, precise information about which resin sources they use is largely lacking. By chemical comparing bee-collected resins and tree resins, I traced back the resin sources used by individual bees. Results show that honeybees collect distinct resin types that are related to different tree species (several poplar species: Populus balsamifera, P. xcanadensis; Betula alba; Aesculus hippocastanum; several poplar species). With this study I provided the first evidence, that A. mellifera in temperate regions use a variety of different tree species as resin sources and, moreover, show preferences for specific resin sources. Maintenance of colony health is probably one of the major purposes of resin collection. Nevertheless, studies investigating the benefits of resins at the colony level are rare and there are only few evidences on the effects of raw propolis (unlike commonly used ethanol extracts) on colony health. For this reason, I conducted an experimental field study in which I investigated whether propolis, as it is naturally deposited in the nests, can protect honeybee colonies against some of the most important pathogens (Varroa destructor mite, Deformed Wing Virus). The results of this study showed that propolis in (semi-) natural conditions can increase the disease resistance of honeybee colonies, underscoring the importance of resins for honeybee health. Resin collection by stingless bees is comparatively well studied and it is known that these species commonly forage on a variety of different plant species. To increase knowledge on whether and how bees may profit from a diversity of resin resources, I tested how the protective function of a resin varied among different sources (and their mixtures) and various potential aggressors (predators, parasites and pathogens). The results of this study revealed that resins from different trees vary in their effectivity against different target organisms. Moreover, resin blends were more effective than some of the individual resins, suggesting that bees can benefit from a variety of resin resources. In summary, honeybees in temperate regions, similar to tropical stingless bees, use a variety of different tree species as resin sources. Because resins from different tree species varied in their protective function, this indicates that bees can profit from a variety of different resins/resin sources by improving the defense against diverse pests and pathogens. Conversely, the lack of resin had a negative impact on the disease resistance of colonies. Consequently, availability as well as the variety of suitable resin sources is of great importance for the health of bees. In addition to nectar and pollen, resin, as a further important resource, should therefore find more attention in beekeeping. Resin collection as the natural disease defense of bees should find more respect in beekeeping praxis and should be more strongly included in future consideration on how to promote bee colony health.

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Author:Nora Drescher
URL: https://pub-data.leuphana.de/frontdoor/index/index/docId/944
Advisor:Alexandra-Maria Klein
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2018
Date of Publication (online):2019/10/24
Publishing Institution:Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Granting Institution:Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Nachhaltigkeit
Date of final exam:2018/11/09
Release Date:2019/10/24
Institutes:Fak 3 - Umwelt und Technik (alt) / Nachhaltigkeitsmgmt./-ökologie
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie