Researchers at the Greek BSRC ‘Alexander Fleming’ have optimized a method for characterizing DNA traces in honey, revealing the species that honeybees interact with. The findings of the study have been published in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources.
This collaborative work led by researcher Dr. Solenn Patalano made it possible to monitor the variability of bee diets over the year, revealing the microbiota of bees in a non-invasive manner, as well as the identification of pathogenic species they face. Why is it important to understand the honeybee’s ecological niche?
What determines an organism’s ecological niche is a delicate balance between interactions and adaptations to other species coexisting in the same habitat. By pollinating trees and flowers, honeybees exploit a large number of flowering plant species for their own food sources and growth. On the other hand, honey bee colonies are also weakened when environmental conditions promote the spread of pathogenic species, such as Varroa mites. The species dynamics of the honeybee’s ecological niche are therefore inextricably linked to the type of habitat in which the bees live and their seasonal changes.
Faced with the increasing restructuring of agricultural areas and the effects of climate change, ecological niches of bees are becoming more vulnerable. A better understanding of the dynamics of interactions between bees and surrounding species will help identify periods and zones at risk for bees. “This is extremely important in rural and agricultural settings, where interactions between species affect crop productivity. It’s fascinating how much of our food and survival depends on the proper functioning of small insects!” commented Anastasios Galanis, the study’s lead author.
Honey, a unique marker of plant diversity in the area Honey bees make honey by expelling the nectar and pollen from the flowers they seek and then placing it in the cells of their hive until sufficient water has evaporated. Through this process, honey comes into contact with a variety of organisms and therefore contains DNA from multiple species, collectively called environmental DNA (eDNA); this comes from forage crops, the gut bacteria of bees and potential hive pathogens.
The now published optimized method called ‘direct-shotgun metagenomics’ involves sequencing and comprehensive identification of the DNA fragments found in honey. As explained by Galanis, “The design and testing of a bioinformatics pipeline aligned with honey metagenomic data allows us to increase sensitivity and specificity, so we can be quite confident in identifying certain types”. In this study, researchers analyzed several honey samples from an apiary in a typical Mediterranean landscape. They identified more than 40 species of plants that reflect all the botanical diversity surrounding the hives. “What was very striking,” said Dr. Patalano, “is to see how variable the abundance of plants eDNA is over the seasons, which perfectly reflects the behavioral adaptations that follow plant flowering.”
Researchers also compared the different honey samples using melissopalinology (using the shape of pollen grains for characterization). In addition to the great complementarity of the two analyses, the study revealed that the metagenomic approach also reveals no-pollen foraging behavior, such as foraging pine honeydew, an important food source for bee survival in early fall. Anticipating disease and spreading pathogens
Contrary to what one might think, the ecological niche of bees extends far beyond plants. In the honey samples analyzed, the researchers revealed an even greater number of bacterial DNA species, the vast majority of which come from microorganisms considered harmless and which make up the core species of the bee microbiome. dr. Patalano explains: “As the human gut microbiome, the gut microbiome of bees is an important element of their health. We already know that environmental stressors, such as pesticides, can seriously damage microbial communities in the gut and increase the risk of bee disease. works remains largely unknown.” With this work, the researchers provide evidence that the honey metagenomics approach allows the study of gut microbiome variation without sacrificing the bees.
Researchers also looked for the presence of DNA from putative pathogens. They found that traces of Varroa mite eDNA in honey corresponded directly to observed hive infestation. It is a promising sign that this research can eventually be used to monitor and anticipate diseases and pathogens in large-scale studies. “In the future, this work could also have very important implications for humans. If we want to guarantee ecosystem services, such as pollination of fruits and vegetables, while preserving the biodiversity of species, we also need to protect the health of bees. Our challenge is to biomonitoring strategies to identify the most appropriate ecological niches for all pollinators,” concluded Dr. patalano. (ANI)
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)
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