The influence of diet on the honeybee lipidome

Determining how dietary lipids affect the lipidome in every life history stage of honeybees

Close up of a honeybee Apis mellifera on a yellow flower of ivy
Team Lead

Prof. Phil Stevenson (PI)


Dr Geoff Kite
Dr Samuel Furse

Domesticated honeybees are arguably the most important pollinators globally.

Millions of commercially-managed honeybee colonies pollinate vegetables, soft fruit, nuts and oilseed crops every year, ensuring human food security.

Intensive management of honeybee colonies has made them more vulnerable to the global spread of pathogens and parasites and exposure to agricultural chemicals while changes to landscape management have reduced floral diversity and abundance, with concomitant effects on the food available for bees. All of these factors are leading to severe colony losses each year in areas where bees are intensively managed.

Nutrition plays a critical role in animal health and welfare.

The main source of nutrition of honeybees is floral pollen and nectar.

Nectar provides carbohydrates whereas pollen provides protein, fat, and micronutrients.

Lipids are important components of cell membranes but are also used as signalling molecules and for energy storage and some nutrients influence behaviour and diet-induced changes to behaviour could have a serious impact on a bee colony, because foraging bees must learn floral traits to acquire pollen and nectar.

This project is studying the role of pollen lipids for bees.

We are investigating how natural lipids in the pollen and bee bread consumed by honeybees are taken up and converted into glandular secretions (e.g., royal jelly) and fed to larvae to understand the link between floral nutrients and bee health and well-being.

Using advanced methods developed in our laboratories and state-of-the-art facilities at Kew for lipidomic analysis, we will map the transformation of dietary fatty acids and sterols into fat compounds found in bee guts, brains, reproductive organs, fat bodies, and brood food glands.

Our research will also identify how fats in diet influence the quality of food given to larvae, and whether diet-induced alterations to fat in larval food affect development.

Our goal will be to test how dietary fats influence the longevity of foragers and whole colony performance in a field setting. Using these data, land managers can also choose plants that provide the correct fatty acid and sterols in pollen for flower strip planting in agroecosystems.

For these reasons, our research will lead to the improvement of welfare of domesticated bees and inform nutritional requirements for wild bees and so has the potential to make a significant contribution to the enhancement of global food security through its impact on pollination services.

Prof Geraldine A Wright (Hope Professor of Zoology) University of Oxford

BBSRC (UKRI) Responsive mode