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Keywords:

  • Geometric Framework;
  • honeybees;
  • nicotine;
  • nutrition;
  • pollinator declines;
  • thermoregulation

Summary

  1. Nutrition plays an important role in physiological stress resistance and by adjusting their intake of key nutrients, such as protein and carbohydrate, many animals can better resist stress.

  2. Poor nutrition may contribute to the widespread and on-going declines of honeybee populations by increasing their vulnerability to abiotic (e.g. pesticides) and biotic (e.g. diseases) stressors. However, we do not know how nutrition affects stress resistance in social insects such as honeybees.

  3. Here, we examined how exposure to the toxic secondary metabolite nicotine, a neurotoxin that shares structural similarities with the neonicotinoid pesticides, and low temperatures affected nutrient regulation in honeybees using the Geometric Framework of nutrition.

  4. Groups of queenless, newly emerged worker bees were given diets containing specific ratios of protein and carbohydrate to determine, first, how toxin exposure and ambient temperature affected their nutrient intake and, secondly, how nutrition affected survival under stress.

  5. We find that low temperatures and nicotine interacted to reduce survival in African honeybees that ate low protein, high carbohydrate diets. However, bees fed a high protein diet were better able to survive insult with these interacting stressors.

  6. Although protein conferred a survival benefit in honeybees exposed to these dual stressors, when allowed to self-select their diet, caged workers did not shift their intake towards a higher protein food to improve their survival under these stressful conditions.

  7. We discuss the possible constraints on nutrient regulation in honeybees and the role that diet could play in their decline.