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Study Says Even City Bees Stick To No Junk Food Diet

May 22, 2016 02:53 PM EDT
Beekeepers Prepare For Spring Pollination
Honey bee pollination is essential to the success of a farmer's crops. In a single day, each bee from a hive which houses thousands of the insects can make ten or more trips from the hive, visiting several thousand flowers.
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Rapid urbanization results to demolition of open spaces and reduced foraging habitat for a number of species. This has forced some of the bees to live in cities where they are introduced to new food sources.

Recent reports had mentioned that there is a widespread decline in the bee population. According to Global Research, scientists have coined the term Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) to describe the loss of bee phenomenon that has been currently recognized an urgent crisis.

In addition to pollution and pesticides, habitat loss is one of the biggest reasons for the widespread bee population decline. And while availability of human foods had become beneficial for some species, sugar that comes from human food may not be beneficial for bees.

Curious about the feeding behavior of bees, Clint Penick, a biologist at NC State University, together with his teammates, conducted an experiment examining whether the bees are stealing sips from juices to get their sugar going. The research was patterned after Penick's previous research which found that most ants in New York City had learned to adapt to human food.

"Urban habitats are growing, as is urban beekeeping, and we wanted to see if bee diets in cities are different from those in rural areas," says Clint Penick, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and lead author of a paper on the study in a press release sent to Nature World News.

"For example, we wanted to know if there are even enough flowers in urban areas to support bee populations, or if bees are turning to human sugar sources, like old soda," he added.

To determine how much processed sugar did the bees consume, the researchers looked at the carbon isotopes, specifically carbon 13, of the collected worker honey bees (Apis mellifera).

Carbon-13 is associated with how much human food does a bee take in.

The samples collected were from 39 colonies across rural and urban areas within 30 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. Twenty-four of the colonies were managed by beekeepers while the remaining 15 colonies were feral.

The study revealed that urban bees, rather than feasting on processed sugar, stick to their flower nectar diet. Meanwhile, domesticated bees consumed significantly more processed sugar than feral bees in both urban and rural environments. Penick said this may be because of the intentional supplementations of bee keepers.

Despite the finding, the researchers emphasized that this may not be the same for all the bees around the world since it is only based on a mid-sized city. Some bigger and crowded cities pose bigger threats to bee population as rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have reduced the quality of protein found in pollens over time.

Managing the degrading effects of carbon dioxide brought by urbanization and preventing habitat loss are still seen as the best ways to protect the colony.

The study was published in the Journal of Urban Ecology.

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