Honey bees more successful when foraging on non-crop fields
Honey bee colonies foraging on land with a strong cover of clover species and alfalfa do more than three times as well than if they are put next to crop fields of sunflowers or canola, according to a study just published in Scientific Reports.
Managed honey bee colonies placed from May until October next to land in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in North Dakota were more robust with better colony health including higher numbers of bees and increased ability to turn nectar and pollen into vitellogenin–a compound that plays a number of roles including serving as the base for producing royal jelly, which bees use to nurture larvae and turn larvae into queens.
Vitellogenin also is a critical food storage reservoir for honey bee colonies, and a colony’s success in the spring depends on total vitellogenin reserves carried by specialized bees over the winter. Vitellogenin prolongs the lifespans of queens and forager bees as well as strongly influencing key behaviors that increase colony survival such as determining how old bees are before they begin foraging and whether they tend to gather nectar or pollen.
After spending six months foraging on CRP land and then overwintering, more than 78 percent of the colonies were graded A, the highest level commanding the highest price for pollination services in January, meaning a colony has six or more frames well filled with bees, capped cells and bee brood (larvae). With colonies kept near intensely cultivated fields and then overwintered under the same circumstances to the CRP apiaries, only 20 percent could be rated Grade A and 55 percent were less than 2 frames or dead.