Building Resilience in Bees with Medicinal Plants

Sunday, January 26, 2020
9:00 am to 10:00 am

(Above)  Bee on goldenrod carrying full pollen load on hind leg.

Workshop Description

Bees are keystone species whose good health better ensures the integrity of the ecological pyramid.

Our reliance on bees as pollinators of many food crops requires they be healthy to maintain this vital role.

Both native and honey bees have been experiencing serious declines over the past number of years.

Healthy honey bees lessen or remove the likelihood of possible transmission of pests or pathogens to native bees.

Faced with a variety of pest and pathogen challenges, and exacerbated by antibiotic resistance, the beekeeper looks to resolve these issues with new and improved medications and technologies.

However, this approach overlooks, and can be at odds with, the innate immunity capacity and social immunity behaviours that bees have evolved including self-medication.

Following up on last year’s workshop “Healing Plants for Self-medicating Bees”, this ongoing review of the literature looks at pharmacophoric behavior in bees, or the gathering and storing of plant materials to obtain beneficial phytochemicals and consumption of these materials for medicinal purposes rather than for nutrition (pharmacophagy). Storage of these foraged products in the nest allows access to the “medicine cabinet” when a plant is no longer available.

Plants contain secondary metabolites, or phytochemicals, which are defense mechanisms against insects and herbivores. Bees co-evolved with plants and can tolerate, and may benefit from, secondary metabolites which can protect these pollinators against pathogens and pests. There is increasing evidence that, when foraging, bees select for antimicrobial and other attributes.

Plants also provide a niche for Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), some of which are closely related to those found in the gut of social bees. There is evidence for horizontal transmission of LABs to the hive environment and to colony mates through trophallaxis and other means. Although the mechanism is not well understood, LABs in the bee gut can induce an immune response in their host and different LAB strains may work synergistically to fight pathogens.

A habitat rich in polyfloral forage increases the likelihood that not only are bees’ nutritional requirements being met but also any medicinal needs. Some specific examples of medicinal plants will be considered.

Bumblebee on echinacea.

Bee on red clover.

Bee on sunflower gathering pollen. Note the enormous pollen pellet carried on her hind leg.

Speaker: Fran Freeman

For the past fifteen years, Fran has been managing honey bees in urban and rural settings using organic and sustainable apiary practices.

She currently cares for 20 hives at several sites and previously co-managed 30 hives as a member of an urban beekeeping collective.

She developed the curriculum for the Sustainable Urban Beekeeping certificate course which is offered through Humber College’s Continuing Education and the Humber Arboretum and which she teaches at the Centre for Urban Ecology, Toronto.

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