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Entomology Today: Hygienic Brood Behavior Keeps the Hive Alive

In the last 40 years, honey bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate. One out of every three bites of food Americans consume comes from a plant visited by bees or other pollinators and our food supply is dependent on their wellbeing. In 2012, we started our Save the Bee initiative, which funds research and education about honeybee health. Luckily for us, a new study shows bees are also trying to save themselves.

An excerpt from Entomology Today:

"Over the past few decades, numerous hygienic honey bee stocks have been selectively bred and studied. However, much of the hygiene-related research has focused on the detection capabilities of adult bees; we now know that adults from hygienic stocks are more sensitive to diseased brood odors than adults from unselected stocks. But does honey bee brood (larvae and pupae) also contribute to hygienic behavior? We decided to find out.

In our new study published last week in the Journal of Economic Entomology, we provide evidence that brood signaling in the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a significant role in triggering hygienic behavior. To test the role of brood in hygiene communication, we quantified the removal of parasite-infested brood, cross-fostered between colonies with distinct breeding backgrounds. Our cross-fostering approach allowed us to disentangle the relative contributions of adult detection and brood signaling to hygienic behavior.

In short, we found that parasite-infested brood from hygienically selected colonies was more likely to be removed than brood from unselected colonies, regardless of where the brood was fostered. This suggests that hygienic brood more effectively signals stress, triggering its own removal for the good of the colony. The idea that altruism at the individual level may contribute to survival at the colony level is consistent with evidence of brood susceptibility and colony resistance to parasites in the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana).

Our study’s findings may have major implications for our understanding of intracolonial communication of social insects, as well as for honey bee management and breeding strategies..."

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