HONEY BEE RESEARCH
LASI was founded in 1996 by Dr. Francis Ratnieks who has MS and PhD degrees in honey bee biology from Cornell University, a centre for honey bee research. He is an experienced beekeeper, has studied bees in 5 continents and is author of 120 scientific articles on bees and social insects. Currently, there are three other PhD scientists, five PhD students, undergraduates and visitors. LASI is equipped with 4 apiaries, bee hives, observation hives, microscopes, video, insemination apparatus, tropical ant room, computers, and workshop. Research investigates bee biology, apiculture, and social insects and is largely funded by grants from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the EU and the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA). LASI has strong links to UK beekeepers and to labs in 15 countries. LASI's mission is to establish an international centre of research excellence, to train the next generation of bee scientists and to be a resource for UK beekeepers.
RESEARCH: APICULTURE (* research carried out in collaboration with BIBBA)
Diseases* Hygienic behaviour is one defence against disease. Hygienic bees uncap and eject dying brood from cells. LASI is screening colonies of British black bees for hygienic behaviour. These will be used in queen rearing. LASI is also using mathematical techniques to model the spread of bee diseases.
Improved queen rearing* LASI is investigating whether artificial queen pheromone, in the form of commercially-available Bee Boost strips, can improve the success rate of mating nuc establishment. Results indicate that treated nucs abscond less frequently on being set up.
Overwintering* Research at LASI has shown that a 5-frame medium-depth Langstroth hive is suitable for both queen rearing and overwintering. It is small enough to use as a queen rearing nuc but large enough to overwinter. Such dual-purpose hives can increase the season for queen rearing and sale.
Mating isolation* With the Sheffield Molecular Genetics Facility, LASI is using DNA microsatellites (naturally occurring paternity markers) to quantify the isolation of BIBBA's queen mating apiary in the Derbyshire Peak District. Results indicate good control, with 80-90% matings to target drones.
Conservation* Following a recent grant from the EU, LASI will be carrying out practical conservation measures on the British black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera using DNA techniques to quantify mating isolation, gene flow, and the genetic characteristics of black bees.
RESEARCH: BASIC HONEY BEE BIOLOGY
Worker policing The honey bee colony is a model of cooperation but there is still potential for conflict. Workers, for example, have ovaries and lay unfertilized, male, eggs. However, if one worker lays an egg another normally eats it. This is known as "worker policing". LASI is investigating how workers can tell which eggs are queen-laid and how some workers lay eggs that escape policing.
Queen fighting Another conflict occurs between virgin queens in a swarming colony. LASI is investigating the tactics used by fighting queens, particularly their ability to break up a fight by releasing a noxious chemical when they are in a losing position.
Foraging By keeping a colony in an observation hive the waggle dances made-by foragers can be observed and decoded. Foragers use this dance to tell recruit bees where the flowers are. Research at LASI is comparing the dancing, and hence the foraging, in large and small population colonies. Other LASI research has shown that workers will travel huge distances, averaging 6km, to heather moors.
Nestmate recognition Entrance guards normally exclude non-nestmate workers. Where does the odour used in recognizing nestmates come from? LASI research shows that it is not from flowers or the genetics of individual bees. LASI is also investigating "acceptance threshold" changes. During a nectar flow the number of guards decreases and those remaining are more permissive, letting in non-nestmates.
Work organization Honey bee foragers collect nectar. But instead of storing it directly into cells they pass it to receiver bees for storage. For efficient nectar collection the work capacities of the foragers and receivers must be balanced. If not, many bees will waste time waiting to transfer, similar to a supermarket with few check outs. LASI research is investigating how a colony maintains this balance.
RESEARCH: OTHER SOCIAL INSECTS LASI is also researching similar questions in other species: worker policing in wasps, hornets and dinosaur ants; dominance hierarchies in dinosaur ants; work organization and garbage disposal in leafcutter ants; foraging in leafcutter ants and Pharaoh's ants.
FURTHER INFORMATION Dr.
Francis Ratnieks, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, Sheffield
University, S10 2TN, UK tel 0114 2220070 fax 0114 2220002 F.Ratnieks@Sheffield.ac.uk