Do honey bee (Apis mellifera) foragers recruit their nestmates to native forbs in reconstructed prairie habitats?

Morgan K. Carr-Markell, Cora M. Demler, Margaret J. Couvillon, Roger Schürch, Marla Spivak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies are valued for the pollination services that they provide. However, colony mortality has increased to unsustainable levels in some countries, including the United States. Landscape conversion to monocrop agriculture likely plays a role in this increased mortality by decreasing the food sources available to honey bees. Many land owners and organizations in the Upper Midwest region of the United States would like to restore/reconstruct native prairie habitats. With increasing public awareness of high bee mortality, many landowners and beekeepers have wondered whether these restored prairies could significantly improve honey bee colony nutrition. Conveniently, honey bees have a unique communication signal called a waggle dance, which indicates the locations of the flower patches that foragers perceive as highly profitable food sources. We used these communication signals to answer two main questions: First, is there any part of the season in which the foraging force of a honey bee colony will devote a large proportion of its recruitment efforts (waggle dances) to flower patches within prairies? Second, will honey bee foragers advertise specific taxa of native prairie flowers as profitable pollen sources? We decoded 1528 waggle dances in colonies located near two large, reconstructed prairies. We also collected pollen loads from a subset of waggle-dancing bees, which we then analyzed to determine the flower taxon advertised. Most dances advertised flower patches outside of reconstructed prairies, but the proportion of dances advertising nectar sources within prairies increased significantly in the late summer/fall at one site. Honey bees advertised seven native prairie taxa as profitable pollen sources, although the three most commonly advertised pollen taxa were non-native. Our results suggest that including certain native prairie flower taxa in reconstructed prairies may increase the chances that colonies will use those prairies as major food sources during the period of greatest colony growth and honey production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0228169
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MCM received funds from a Project Apis m-Costco Honey Bee Health Fellowship, which supported this work. MS received research funds for this work from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, General Mills, and Madhava Sweeteners. We thank Belle Kinder for her assistance in maintaining colonies, surveying flowers, and decoding dances at Carleton College and Phoebe Koenig for her help at Belwin Conservancy. We thank Belwin Conservancy and Carleton College?s Cowling Arboretum for allowing us to collect data on their land, particularly Mark McKone, Nancy Braker, Ned Phillips, and Tara Kelly for their advice and help with floral surveys. We are very grateful to Martin McGough and Fritz Bogott who generously allowed us to keep our bees near their residences and use their electricity. We thank Ian Lane and Elaine Evans for their assistance with flower identification. We are grateful to two undergraduate technicians who assisted in decoding dances, Brooke Sommerfeldt and Eileen Hickman. We are indebted to Erin Treiber for advice on DNA extraction, marker amplification, and sequencing. We thank Michael Spengler for his help in modifying the R code for analyzing and mapping dances, and John Fieberg for helpful advice on Bayesian statistics. We are very grateful to Gary Reuter for all of his help in caring for the honey bees and creativity in modifying sheds and observation hives for this project. Dan Cariveau, Diane Larson, and Emilie Snell-Rood provided invaluable feedback. We also thank the LacCore Center (funded by NSF grant No. 1462347) for the use of their pollen reference library and microscopes.


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