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Effects of different artificial diets on commercial honey bee colony performance, health biomarkers, and gut microbiota

Vincent A. Ricigliano, Steven T. Williams, Randy Oliver
BMC veterinary research 2022 v.18 no.1 pp. 52
Bifidobacterium, Gilliamella, almonds, amino acid composition, apiaries, biomarkers, digestive system, disease control, essential amino acids, experimental diets, forage, gene expression, honey bee colonies, honey bees, humans, intestinal microorganisms, leucine, pathogens, pollen, pollination, population size, spring, sugars, tryptophan, veterinary medicine, California
BACKGROUND: Honey bee colonies managed for agricultural pollination are highly dependent on human inputs, especially for disease control and supplemental nutrition. Hives are routinely fed artificial “pollen substitute” diets to compensate for insufficient nutritional forage in the environment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of different artificial diets in a northern California, US commercial beekeeping operation from August through February. This time period represents an extended forage dearth when supplemental nutrition is used to stimulate late winter colony growth prior to almond pollination in the early spring. A total of 144 honey bee colonies were divided into 8 feeding groups that were replicated at three apiary sites. Feeding groups received commercial diets (Global, Ultra Bee, Bulk Soft, MegaBee, AP23, Healthy Bees), a beekeeper-formulated diet (Homebrew), or a sugar negative control. Diets were analyzed for macronutrient and amino acid content then evaluated with respect to honey bee colony population size, average bee weight, nutrition-related gene expression, gut microbiota abundance, and pathogen levels. RESULTS: Replicated at three apiary sites, two pollen-containing diets (Global and Homebrew) produced the largest colonies and the heaviest bees per colony. Two diets (Bulk Soft and AP23) that did not contain pollen led to significantly larger colonies than a sugar negative control diet. Diet macronutrient content was not correlated with colony size or health biomarkers. The sum of dietary essential amino acid deficiencies relative to leucine content were correlated with average bee weight in November and colony size used for almond pollination in February. Nutrition-related gene expression, gut microbiota, and pathogen levels were influenced by apiary site, which overrode some diet effects. Regarding microbiota, diet had a significant impact on the abundance of Bifidobacterium and Gilliamella and trended towards effects on other prominent bee gut taxa. CONCLUSIONS: Multiple colony and individual bee measures are necessary to test diet efficacy since honey bee nutritional responses are complex to evaluate. Balancing essential amino acid content relative to leucine instead of tryptophan may improve diet protein efficiency ratios. Optimization of bee diets could improve feed sustainability and agricultural pollination efficiency by supporting larger, healthier honey bee colonies.