Human activity can affect how bees communicate with each other and add further stress to colonies, according to a study published in PNAS.
When studying honeybees, bumblebees, and stingless bees, a team of researchers from the University of Bristol, UK, discovered that differences in how each of these types of bees communicates with each other are influenced by the habitats where the bees live and social lifestyle in different colonies.
What’s more, changes caused by humans — such as habitat conversion, climate change, and the use of fertilisers — are affecting the bees directly. It is becoming increasingly clearer that human changes make it harder for bees to communicate with each other, affecting how they get food and interact with other bees. The authors emphasise that bees need to adapt their foraging and communication strategies to cope with human changes, and this is an key area in conservation research.
Bees are crucial pollinators for many plants. Different types of bees use different methods to indicate food sources to other bees: for example, honeybees dance in front of flowers, while stingless bees use pheromone trails. However, researchers still don’t understand why different bees use different methods to solve the same problem, but it may be in response to changes triggered by humans.
“We have synthesised the recent literature to explain how differences in ecology and sociality explains this variation,” said Christoph Grueter from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences. “It is known that anthropogenic effects, such as climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss, negatively affect social bees. The research we analysed shows that different bees have found many different solutions to the problem of finding good food sources in an efficient way. Anthropogenic change has the potential to interfere with bee communication, and behaviours that have helped bees be successful for millions of years might suddenly no longer be equally beneficial.”
More research is needed to understand how changes caused by humans impact bee communication. The UK team is now planning to study how habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides affect communication behaviours in bees.
Grueter C et al (2023) Diverse communication strategies in bees as a window into adaptations to an unpredictable world. PNAS, 120 (24) e2219031120 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2219031120