Gut microbiota influence animal neurodevelopment and behaviour. To investigate the effect of the gut microbiota on honeybee behaviour and colony social organisation, researchers compared bees that were either microbiota-depleted or colonised with a homogenate of five nurse bee guts. They used an automated behavioural tracking system to monitor the bees social interactions.
The researchers found that the presence of the microbiota increased the rate and specialisation of head-to-head interactions between bees. Although there was no significant difference between colonised and microbiota-depleted bees in terms of the rate of contact (interactions not involving the head) or survival, the colonised bees formed stronger social ties with nestmates, while microbiota-depleted bees interacted more randomly.
Microbiota colonisation was associated with increased metabolites in the brain, including amino acids which are important for synaptic transmission and brain energetic function. Colonization also affected epigenetic modification in a brain region involved in sensory perception.
The study highlights the importance of the gut microbiome for the complex social lives of honeybees. The researchers hope that by understanding how symbiotic bacteria enhance pollinator cognitive performance and social organisation, treatments to improve health and collective behaviour could be developed.
Read the paper:
Liberti, J., Kay, T., Quinn, A., Kesner, L., Frank, E. T., Cabriol, A., Richardson, T. O., Engel, P. & Keller, L. (2022) The gut microbiota affects the social network of honeybees. Nature Ecology & Evolution. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-022-01840-w