Algae-based feed could help save struggling bee colonies
As factors such as habitat loss decrease the number and variety of flowering plants in the environment, beekeepers are increasingly starting to augment their insects' diet with artificial feeds. It now turns out that microalgae may be a particularly good form of "bee chow."
Malnutrition is thought to be a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder, as it amplifies the effect of existing stressors such as pathogens, parasites and pesticides. As a result, many colonies now receive supplemental feeds, designed to replace the naturally-obtained flower pollen that's missing in their diet.
These products are typically made of ingredients like wheat, soy, lentils, yeast and milk proteins. According to scientists from the US Agricultural Research Service, though, such feeds may be lacking in essential nutrients and antioxidants. With that in mind, the researchers have instead looked to spirulina, a type of microscopic blue-green algae.
It was found that the microalgae is high in the amino acids that are required for immune function, protein synthesis and colony growth in honeybees, plus it contains the prebiotics necessary for the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. What's more, the algae can be sustainably grown in shallow ponds, requiring little more than nutrient salts, water and sunlight.
The scientists now plan on conducting field tests, to see if honeybees from nearby colonies will be attracted to a feed product made of spirulina. They are also working on developing new microalgae strains, aimed specifically at use in bee feed.
A paper on the research, which is being led by entomologists Vincent Ricigliano and Michael Simone-Finstrom, was published this week in the journal Adipologie.