The diet of bees is based on pollen and nectar. Bee colonies are extremely flexible in dealing with the quantity of available food, but like people they require a sufficiently wide variety of food to remain healthy.
In response to a smaller food supply, bees make the hive smaller. If food scarcity continues for a longer period, the colony becomes smaller. In itself this does not have to be a problem, as long as there are enough bees to keep the hive at the right temperature and if the remaining bees in the colony are otherwise healthy.
However, a lack of diversity in the food supply, especially pollen, often causes more problems. For a number of proteins, bees are entirely dependent on the pollen that is brought into the hive: they are unable to make all amino acids (the building blocks for protein) themselves. The problem is that the pollen of every forage plant does not contain all essential amino acids, or the amino acids are not present in the right proportion. The more varied the pollen that is brought into the hive, the greater the likelihood that the bees will receive all necessary nutrients.
Bees@wur has conducted a number of studies into the effects of nutrition (sometimes in combination with other health factors) on the health of honeybees.
- Dooremalen, C. van; Stam, E.; Gerritsen, L.J.M.; Cornelissen, B.; Steen, J.J.M. van der; Langevelde, F. van; Blacquiere, T. 2013. Interactive effect of reduced pollen availability and Varroa destructor infestation limits growth and protein content of young honey bees. Journal of Insect Physiology 59(4): p. 487-493.
- Van Dooremalen & Blacquière (publication in progress) Maize and Honeybees.