Nutritional aspects of honey bee-collected pollen and constraints on colony development in the eastern Mediterranean

Dorit Avni, Harmen P. Hendriksma, Arnon Dag, Zehava Uni, Sharoni Shafir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pollen is the main protein and lipid source for honey bees (Apis mellifera), and nutritionally impoverished landscapes pose a threat to colony development. To determine colony nutritional demands, we analyzed a yearly cycle of bee-collected pollen from colonies in the field and compared it to colony worker production and honey bee body composition, for the first time in social insects. We monitored monthly bee production in ten colonies at each of seven sites throughout Israel, and trapped pollen bi-monthly in five additional colonies at each of four of these sites. Pollen mixtures from each sampling date and site were analyzed for weight, total protein, total fatty acids (FAs), and FA composition. Compared to more temperate climates, the eastern Mediterranean allows a relatively high yearly colony growth of ca. 300,000-400,000 bees. Colonies at higher elevation above sea level showed lower growth rates. Queen egg-laying rate did not seem to limit growth, as peaks in capped brood areas showed that queens lay a prolific 2000 eggs a day on average, with up to 3300 eggs in individual cases. Pollen uptake varied significantly among sites and seasons, with an overall annual mean total 16.8. kg per colony, containing 7.14. kg protein and 677. g fat. Overall mean pollen protein content was high (39.8%), and mean total FA content was 3.8%. Production cost, as expressed by the amount of nutrient used per bee, was least variable for linoleic acid and protein, suggesting these as the best descriptive variables for total number of bees produced. Linolenic acid levels in pollen during the autumn were relatively low, and supplementing colonies with this essential FA may mitigate potential nutritional deficiency. The essentiality of linoleic and linolenic acids was consistent with these FAs' tendency to be present at higher levels in collected pollen than in the expected nutrients in bee bodies, demonstrating a well-developed adjustment between pollinator nutritional demands and the nutritional value of food offered by pollinated plants.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)65-73
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 2014


  • Food supplement
  • Nutritional homeostasis
  • Omega 3
  • Omega 6
  • Pollen trap

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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