World Bee day falls on Friday 20th May 2022. Here, we explore the stories behind the latest research into these fascinating insects and their impact on the world.
From producing honey to their matriarchal social structures, there are many well-known facts we can think of when talking about bees. As a child, I learnt that a honey bee has:
These facts – and our recall of them – may not change, but our understanding of bees and their importance in the world is still growing all the time. Bees are fascinating insects; along with having a complex social hierarchy, including matriarchal societies, they are also critical – in their role as pollinators – to biodiversity. Here, we explore some of the stories behind the latest research into the lives of these important insects and the impact they have on a global scale.
Today, many around the world enjoy honey and other bee products on a daily basis. From honey on toast in the morning to royal-jelly infused skin care and even mead – an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey mixed with water. Whilst – for many – this is a part of modern life, research has shown that honey bee products were part of life for the prehistoric West African Nok culture over 3500 years ago too. Julie Dunne shares more about this research in the Nature Portfolio Ecology and Evolution Community. The team studied organic residue from pottery to explore what the Nok people cooked in the pots, to understand more about their diet and subsistence, and found an unexpectedly high presence of beeswax!
In a time of rapid global change, we are becoming more and more aware of the vital importance of pollinators to ecosystems around the world. Bees and other pollinators play a central role in maintaining food production, but they also play an important role in quality of life, health, cultural, spiritual, and social values. These links between people and nature are known as biocultural diversity. Recognising that there are many factors that threaten pollinators and the need for effective conservation approaches, a team of researchers have shown that community driven conservation initiatives – focussed on biocultural approaches such as landscape management practices and diversified farming systems – can be successful and strengthen approaches to pollinator conservation. Rosemary Hill shares more about the team’s work in a post on the Springer Nature Sustainability Community.
Like humans, bees have many different ways of communicating with others, and the ways they communicate can differ based on the role they are carrying out e.g. foraging for food or looking after baby bees. This necessitates complex social structures within the hive, which a team from Freie Universität Berlin have been working to understand. Using QR code-like markers they are able to track and decode the movements of individual bees, then using machine learning to generate detailed data sets about a bee’s individual behaviour and social network. David Dormagen and Benjamin Wild explain more in a post shared with the Nature Portfolio Ecology and Evolution Community.
One well known example of how bees communicate is the ‘waggle dance’ – a figure of eight-pattern that directs fellow worker bees to rich sources of nectar. But this is not the only way that bees share information. Matthew Hesenjager from Royal Holloway, University of London sought to better understand the multi-functional nature of the waggle dance and how it forms part of a wider informational sharing system. You can find out more about this research in Matthew’s post in the Nature Portfolio Ecology and Evolution Community.
Alongside their important role as pollinators, bees can also help us to understand more about the neurological processes that underpin their complex social structures and communication. Hao Zheng and a team from China Agricultural University have been studying honeybees in an effort to learn more about the gut-brain axis. They identified a role for specific gut microbiota in bees’ learning and memory, opening the door for us to better understand host-microbe interactions and their role in neurological processes. Hao shares more about this work in a Behind the Paper post published in the Nature Portfolio Microbiology Community.
If you’d like to explore more of the latest research into social structures, insect evolution or the importance of biodiversity, visit the Nature Portfolio and Springer Nature Research Communities.
Sorrel is Head of Communities and Engagement at Springer Nature, and is based in London. Her main focus is providing opportunities for researchers to engage and share their work with different audiences, including through the Nature Portfolio and Springer Nature Communities.