Sunday, August 9, 2015

On-Going Research: Apis meliferia nectar, pollen and propalis sources

I haven't really written about this per se, I think some people know that I've been working on this since I was in Senegal (2012) and found "Plants for Arid Lands" published by International Bee Research Association on the bookshelf which had a small chapter Bees and Honey in the Exploitation of Arid Land Resources by Eva Crane. Through more and more literature review and a cross-referencing local plant databases/writings with known nectar sources I've gotten to have a pretty comprehensive list going.

So a little background. There are 7 species of the 200,000 bees that specifically produce honey in massive amounts. These we call honey bees or Apis mellifera. There are races of these that have been breed over time. Much like we have races of humans, we are all still people, we all come from certain places making us identify with those locations and in some cases even have specialized characteristics. Example of races in honey bees would be Italian (A. mellifera ligustica), Carnolian (A.  mellifera carnica), Caucasian/Russian (A. mellifera caucasica) and African (A. mellifera adansonii)

From Tropical and Subtropical Apiculture (1986) FAO
So of these 7 honey bees in the world, many of them are region specific. As you can see from the map bee originated in a few place and migrated into others. Typically assisted by humans, bees there were able to colonize and survive. This is due to a few factors, one being food or fodder resources, second being habitat, and third would be climate. All of these factors are interconnected.

Not scientific based, but an idea on differences between race characteristics
Honey bees are generalist when it comes to plants, meaning they will touch many different flowers for a multitude of reasons. Some for nectar, others for pollen, some for propalis, but few plants can provide more than one of these. The plants themselves are specialized. Also the bee will follow the bloom of one plant until it's finished. So if a mango tree is in bloom it will continue to look for mango flowers until the bloom has ended. 

Color is also a major part of how pollinators find food

Evolutionary plants have created flowers to attract pollinators to increase fertilization and thus dissemination of themselves. Nectar within the flowers assists in attracting certain pollinators, such as honey bees, to visit the flower taking pollen and transferring it to the stigma, or female part, in order to create a seed. Nectar us a sugar-rich liquid produced by glands called nectaries. Bees use nectar, mixing it with an enzyme in their ‘honey stomach’ to create honey once it’s stored in wax comb, water content is evaporated to below 18.2 percent and is capped with wax. Honey is the main food source for bees in the hive.

Bees also use pollen, plant’s male gametes, as a food source. Pollen is the protein source needed for rearing one worker bee from larval to adult stage requires approximately 120-145 mg of pollen. An average bee colony will collect about 20-57 kg (44-125 pounds) of pollen a year. By natural instinct, bees will collect only the best entomophily pollen grains that are higher in nutritional value.

Propolis, often referred to as bee glue, is used in the hive to seal cracks, crevices or encase carcasses that cannot be removed from the hive. Typically collected from the sap or resin of certain trees and small number of flowers. Propolis has been used medically for its antimicrobial, immunostimulant, and antioxidant properties which vary due to location in which it is procured based on plant sources in the area.

So based on region, in any given place there are bees (everywhere expect Antarctica and the South Pole) there are only 250-300 plants that bees are able to take nectar, pollen and propalis from. And given you need approximately one million blooms to produce one cup of honey, you need many many blooms of those given plants.

Looking at plant phenology (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) the way in which these 250-300 plants' blooms appear is also quite amazing. Many of them do not over lap and if they do, there is one in which the bees prefer due to either quantity each bloom produces or more likely the amount of sugar in the nectar. Much like if oranges are in season you'd eat them, but if mangoes came in to season you'd prefer the mango as it's sweeter and juicer. 

Great example of nectar source calendar for Western North Carolina

Due to climate change and the change of priorities when it comes to research, little has continued to be documented on these ideas (nectar, pollen and propalis source plants and their phenology). Many of the cited literature I have found is from the 60's and 70's. Also at the local level internationally, many host-country nationals are aware of this and have a vast knowledge of these plants. The names they known them by are local names rather than the scientific, but capturing this information and further researching to find the Latin names and some times specific varieties I believe will be instrumental to maintain and increase honey bee habitat.
Example of local nectar source list per Beekeeper Richard Underhill from his trip with Winrock International to East Africa
So I have started collecting lists, as many as I can find and cross referencing them. Most are through scientific literature. Dr. Eva Crane (foremost researcher on honey bees) was no slouch, her Trust has 40,000 abstracts available to search along with her publishing 300 papers and many books over her lifetime. Others are found through beekeepers I've heard of or found through the wonderful place of the internet. Most beekeepers are amazing people who are willing to help out each other to further honey bees, habitat and generally overall goodness on the planet. 

Currently I have reviewed many many articles and journals, 22 of them have viable lists that I'm extracting, cleaning and adding to my main list. Then sorting, removing duplicates, verifying correct taxonomy (science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups as these tend to change over time especially with plants) and adding in any bloom dates, propagation information or nuance information of the plant.

After all of that, I would love to share it on a website such as Zooniverse, to further have citizen scientists help identify where the plants grow and the bloom pattern in that location, hopefully on a global scale. This information would then assist beekeepers, land owners, farmers, environmentalists, policy makers, and others to maintain and increase habitat and food sources world wide.

Lack of knowledge is one thing, but in this day and age of information the world is becoming and smaller and smaller place. People want to help bees, I don't believe we need more beekeepers, we need better beekeepers, farmers, stewards, with better information to make a better place for all of use.

Currently my abstract for this project as been submitted and accepted to Apimondia (the international beekeeping conference), I am looking for support in order to attend and present my abstract in Daejeon, Korea in September. I have contacted various organizations for support as well, but is currently pending response.

Please feel free to pass this along to anyone who might be interested in the information, I would love to collaborate further on it. Thank you for your time and support.

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