Personality, immunity and the bumblebee

Good news for particularly busy bumblebees: you're not putting your immune systems at risk with all that hard work. EU-funded research has established that foraging motivation and other traits vary among individuals and colonies of the species, but that these differences don’t seem to affect their ability to fend off disease.

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 3 January 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Environment
Human resources & mobilityCareers & mobility  |  Marie Curie Actions
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
United Kingdom
Add to PDF "basket"

Personality, immunity and the bumblebee

Picture of the bumblebee on the flower

© Tony - fotolia.com

Bumblebees do indeed have different personalities, it appears, and “company culture” also varies from one colony to another. The EU-funded project ColonyPersPOLs focused on the fuzzy foragers’ idiosyncrasies and the implications of these traits. It concluded that temperament has no bearing on the insects’ individual or collective immune capacity.

These findings do not support a widely held assumption that insects living life in the fast lane invest less energy in building up their immune systems than less driven peers, reports David Baracchi, who led the research at the Queen Mary University of London.

“Bolder animals are thought to have a shorter life expectancy,” Baracchi says. They may have less time to reach milestones on their life’s journey – reproduction, for example – than other members of their species. The go-getters were therefore thought to invest more energy in meeting their evolutionary objectives, diverting it away from “housekeeping” activities such as building up a strong immune system, he adds.

This hypothetical reallocation of resources is referred to as ‘pace-of-life syndrome’. “It is basically a trade-off between speed and the probability of completing what they have to do,” Baracchi explains. So, is this actually what happens? Apparently not, according to ColonyPersPOLs’ research. “We did not find in our experiment that investment in immunity correlates with behavioural type,” as Baracchi puts it.

Flower power

But first, the project had to prove that members of the species aren’t actually all alike in terms of their foraging motivation, boldness, and willingness to explore new things. Testing for these parameters involved an artificial environment with plastic flowers, Baracchi explained.

The introduction of new types of flowers enabled the team to measure individual bumblebees’ interest in novelty, and their diligence in visiting familiar flowers provided clues to their motivation. But how do you test a bee for boldness?

By observing how quickly it returns to business as usual after a simulated predation attack, for example.

“We used a kind of ‘mechanical spider’ that briefly trapped bees in one of the flowers,” Baracchi explains. “And then we counted the time it took them to resume their foraging activity. Some only needed a few seconds, others a couple of minutes.”

The colonies many bumblebee species form also differ in their habits, says Baracchi. “Some produce few males and queens and do so very early in the season, for example,” he notes. “Other colonies, in contrast, may focus on the production of workers initially and only generate reproductive bees towards the end of the season. However, they are likely to produce a lot of them, and these males and queens will probably also be of better quality as there are more workers to feed them.”

For(a)ging ahead

The researchers completed their experiment by taking note of the size and body mass of the tested bees, counting the number of immune cells in their blood, and attempting to correlate these characteristics with the observed traits.

No such correlation emerged, Baracchi reports. Individuals and colonies have the same tasks to complete throughout their lives or cycles, and some may tackle these tasks faster than others – but no trade-offs in terms of the energy invested in reproduction, physiology or immune capacity appear to be involved, he adds.

ColonyPersPOLs benefited from EU funding, in the form of a career integration grant awarded to Baracchi by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme. Following the end of this two-year project in February 2015, he was offered a position in Toulouse, where his research on insects now focuses on mechanisms of learning and memory.

A three-year project dedicated to these aspects of insect cognition will take him back to his native Italy in 2018, Baracchi adds. Methodology developed in ColonyPersPOLs will feed into this research, he notes.

Project details

  • Project acronym: ColonyPersPOLs
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 329001
  • Total costs: € 221 606
  • EU contribution: € 221 606
  • Duration: March 2013 to February 2015

See also

 

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also
Project details