Nature’s reset: The effect of native and invasive plant forage on honey bee nutrition and survival

(1) Toms River High School North, (2) The Best Bees Company Inc.
Cover photo for Nature’s reset: The effect of native and invasive plant forage on honey bee nutrition and survival
Image credit: Culbert and Wilson-Rich 2024

As a keystone species, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are pollinators that help sustain our food supply and native ecosystems. Unfortunately, habitat loss and widespread pesticide use are major drivers of pollinator decline. In the case of honey bees, rates of infection and colony collapse have been attributed to several interacting factors, including the loss of forage diversity and abundance. In this study, we aimed to investigate the effect of plant forage on bee health across apiaries located in multiple US cities. Hives were divided into healthy green zones, average health yellow zones, and unhealthy red zones. We hypothesized that honey bee colony survival would increase with the number of native plants foraged. Using plant DNA metabarcoding of honey samples, qualitative and quantitative analyses revealed hive health variation due to the population of plants foraged upon. Forage from green zones consisted predominantly of native plants and red zones consisted of primarily invasive plants. Furthermore, hives that were exposed to a natural catastrophic event demonstrated a high percentage of native plant forage post-disaster. Our study represents the first investigation of the significance of native and invasive plant forage to overwintering survival for honey bees as well as novel research examining the effect of natural catastrophic events on honey bee foraging. The availability of native and invasive plants plays a critical role in bee health, performance, and fitness, particularly in post-catastrophic event landscapes. By further understanding the unique dynamics between the type of plant forage and honey bee survival, we may be another step closer to unlocking the mysteries that may benefit the health of 200,000 other pollinator species.

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