Is association of plants with pollen load colour Bad Science (BS)?

Good science (GS) is based on four precepts. Observation made through our senses, hypothesis developed from our curiosity, testing the hypothesis by gathering data from experiments and other research methods, and prediction which can lead to new thinking, theories and a lot of funding opportunities for academic research. In GS it is essential that a hypothesis is tested before it can be accepted and integrated into new concepts and theories.

Data from new discoveries and advances made in technology may modify and change predictions and theories. Therefore scientific ideas are never set in stone but evolve to better our understanding.

Bad science (BS) on the other hand is based on assumptions. If authoritarian figures build a science around assumptions it becomes hard to question and more difficult to challenge. Basing science on assumptions is a dangerous thing. It can lead us further from reality and as a consequence is damaging to the subject of study.

My question is “Can pollen load colour be used to associate plants with honeybee nutrition or is this BS?”

The pollen load clour method for associating plants to honeybees.

At present some beekeepers set up pollen traps on their beehives. These contraptions collect a large amount of pollen loads over a long period of time (2 days on average).

On the right hand side of Figure 1 is a pollen load colour chart used to associate pollen load colour with plants. Beekeepers will use these colour charts to pick out the best colour that matches the pollen load colour. Then by making little piles of pollen loads that are very similar in colour, make an assumption to which plants honeybees are visiting.

The new method of associating plants to honeybees.

There is a new way which is not reliant on colour charts and therefore not subjective. Pollen traps are not used and therefore nutrition flow to the honeybee colony is not disrupted, and most importantly is not based on assumptions. Pollen is identified and associated with the plants visited by bees.

On the pollen chart, in figure 1, I have a pollen load which can be three possible plants. These are box (Buxus), Japanese quince (Chaenomeles) and broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica). There could also be a case for cabbage and apple, but I want to keep it simple and subjective!

The pollen load was processed using a ‘Pollen and bees’ non-laboratory method and it revealed the pollen load was composed of……….fungal spores (Figure 2)

This should not be a surprise. It turns out that fungal spore collection by honeybees was first recorded back in 1875 and has been recorded all round the world. We have completely omitted this in our understanding of honeybee nutrition. Fungal spores, therefore, are not represented in colour charts. The protein of fungi, mycoprotein, is different from plant protein and may convey some health benefits to honeybee colonies which we are unaware of.

The new way to assess pollen loads and pollen stores would give a clear indication as to just how much fungal spores are collected during the honeybee foraging period. This could also indicate areas lacking in fungal spore collection which may correlate to a widespread use of pesticides and in particular fungicides.

Potential new areas of research in honeybee nutrition.

This observation leads to a question based on curiosity. Are honeybees reliant on fungi as well as pollen? There is some evidence which indicates honeybees may have a preference for fungal spores over pollen. This, however, is speculative and calls for future investigation. A study on foraging may develop new thinking on honeybee nutrition and therefore be of far greater benefit to honeybees.

We may discover only certain pollen, fungal spores and possibly algae are collected during foraging periods. This would associate plants and fungi which are important to honeybees with some certainty. We may discover that some exotic plant species are favoured by bees over indigenous species; further investigation may lead to discovering why. We may even correlate medicinal compounds found in pollen which are essential for the health of honeybees. All of these things may lead to new thinking on honeybee health and fitness to survive.

‘Pollen and bees’ techniques are simple and can be carried out by anyone. One technique produces a slide of pollen from pollen loads, pollen stores and plant anthers in one minute.

In my last post I mentioned the discovery of Cupania pollen being brought back to the hive. The significance of this is Cupania is a tropical plant which has been introduced into the UK. If selectively pollinated by honeybees the plant may become established. Honeybees, therefore, show a preference to types of plants that are within the area that the colony is situated. One should move away from thinking that any and all pollen would satisfy honeybees.

There are many more discoveries waiting for beekeepers and research scientist to make by using these simple ‘Pollen and bees’ techniques and letting go of assumptions.