Multiple stressors: using the honeybee model BEEHAVE to explore how spatial and temporal forage stress affects colony resilience
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Wiley via the DOI in this record.
Reason for embargo
The causes underlying the increased mortality of honeybee colonies (Apis mellifera) observed over the past decade remain unclear. Since so far the evidence for monocausal explanations is equivocal, involvement of multiple stressors is generally assumed. We here focus on various aspects of forage availability, which have received less attention than other stressors because it is virtually impossible to explore them empirically. We applied the colony model BEEHAVE, which links within-hive dynamics and foraging, to stylized landscape settings to explore how foraging distance, forage supply, and “forage gaps”, i.e. periods in which honeybees cannot find any nectar and pollen, affect colony resilience and the mechanisms behind. We found that colony extinction was mainly driven by foraging distance, but the timing of forage gaps had strongest effects on time to extinction. Sensitivity to forage gaps of 15 days was highest in June or July even if otherwise forage availability was sufficient to survive. Forage availability affected colonies via cascading effects on queen's egg-laying rate, reduction of new-emerging brood stages developing into adult workers, pollen debt, lack of workforce for nursing, and reduced foraging activity. Forage gaps in July led to reduction in egg-laying and increased mortality of brood stages at a time when the queen's seasonal egg-laying rate is at its maximum, leading to colony failure over time. Our results demonstrate that badly timed forage gaps interacting with poor overall forage supply reduce honeybee colony resilience. Existing regulation mechanisms which in principle enable colonies to cope with varying forage supply in a given landscape and year, such as a reduction in egg-laying, have only a certain capacity. Our results are hypothetical, as they are obtained from simplified landscape settings, but they are consistent with existing empirical knowledge. They offer ample opportunities for testing the predicted effects of forage stress in controlled experiments.
Article first published online: 9 November 2015