Busy as Which Bee? Bumble vs Honey

For December 12, 2018       
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Humans seem to admire bees.  Humans stick bees with multiple analogies.  They are anthropomorphic metaphors, mostly favorable. Bees have queens and workers and drones.  Bees live in colonies, they build combs, upon which they wax on.  A select few dine on royal jelly.  Bees dance, and when they dance they make a map.  Bees are the Ginger Rogers of cartography. We see ourselves in bees;  I bet the bees are not amused. Bees also forage.  Sometimes they forage for a borage.  Other times, nearly any bloom will do. To forage is to hunt for food, usually of a plant kind, or at least of a sessile kind.  (The French get it better—their word to hunt for animals that move is “chasser.”) Bees have to go find food—nectar & pollen—and bring it back to the hive.  How far they dare roam from home is a critical calculation.  Different bees may have different strategies that also make them airborne economists calculating marginal revenues & marginal costs on the fly.  
Tonight (December 12)  Danny Minahan of Integrative Biology will be here to give us some comparative insights into the humble bumble and its melliferous cousin.  The title of his talk: “Really…How Busy Is a Bee? Foraging by Honey Bees & Bumble Bees in Wisconsin Agricultural Lands.” 
Here’s how Danny describes his talk:
Bees are a diverse group of insects that range from solitary to eusocial. Honey bees and bumble bees are eusocial, indicating that within a colony they form discreet castes that result in a division of labor where some individuals are responsible for reproduction while others are responsible for hive maintenance, tending brood, and resource collection. Honey bee colonies are perennial indicating that the hive can live for multiple years with a single queen. In contrast, bumble bees are annual in that each colony will only survive for one season, at the end of which queens are produced and will disperse to start new colonies the following season.

Considering these differences in life history, it makes one wonder how these strategies are reflected in the foraging behavior of honey bees and bumble bees. Our research seeks to compare the foraging patterns of representative species from each group to test predictions that arise from what is known about their life history traits. Specifically, we are interested in foraging activity and resource use metrics and how these change throughout the foraging season.

To gather data on foraging activity, we use radio frequency identification (RFID) to track the movement of foraging bees to and from the hive and make calculations based on how long individuals are gone on any given foraging bout and how frequently foragers depart the nest. To evaluate resource use we identify the richness and diversity of pollen types being returned to the hive. From these data we provide insight into the similarities and differences between the foraging caste of honey bees and bumble bees and how they respond through time, and among specific locations in a shared landscape. Ultimately, these data can help us understand the similarities and differences in how bumble bees and honey bees forage across the landscape, and to predict when we might expect bees to be presented with foraging challenges.

About the Speaker: 
Danny Minahan is a lifelong learner who is specifically passionate about the outdoors, natural history and ecology. This has come in the form of tromping through the mountains of the West, paddling and portaging lakes in the upper mid-west, reading the writings of contemporary nature writers, most notably Aldo Leopold and John Muir, and pursuing academic ecological research. After finishing high school Danny was eager to move away from the Denver suburbs to pursue studies in the mountains at Colorado Mountain College. Following this Danny completed his BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Colorado – Boulder. It was here that Danny got interested in the fascinating interactions between plants and pollinators, specifically bees, and what ultimately guided him to pursue bee research at the University of Wisconsin with Dr. Johanne Brunet. Danny’s doctoral research has focused on the foraging behavior of honey bees and bumble bees. In addition to research Danny is a passionate instructor of Biology, having had opportunities to teach a variety of introductory level Biology courses during his time at UW-Madison, and to serve as mentor in ecological research to a diversity of students.
Bees give us the warm light of wax candles and the sweet flow of honey.  In turn, we give them our attention and admiration.  We should all be keepers of the bees.
Next week (December 19) Leah Parker of English speaks on “Disability in the Middle Ages: Five Brief Histories.”  She will lead us on a tour through five perspectives on medieval disability history: politics, medicine, religion, art, and poetry.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension