When provided with the opportunity to select their diet, most insect herbivores regulate their nutrient intake. However, in a nutritionally heterogeneous environment and with changing demands for growth, development and reproduction, obtaining the required amount and balance of nutrients is a challenge. This is especially true for social insects where the workers bring food into the colony to be shared by nestmates. The ability of insects to self-select their diet is an important trait related to fitness. In this study we investigated whether and how caged worker honeybees meet their nutritional requirements in response to the nutritional composition of the food they find. Using the ‘geometric framework’ we looked at the behavioural and physiological mechanisms used by caged worker honeybees in balancing their diet when provided with different pairs of complementary imbalanced foods. First, we investigated whether caged worker honeybees maintain their intake target by providing them with pairs of complementary imbalanced foods with varying protein to carbohydrate (P:C) ratios. Diets were formulated using different protein sources: casein, royal jelly and Feed-Bee®. Honeybees self-selected or balanced their diet by switching between the complementary foods in accordance with the composition of the food and the type of protein that they encountered. Honeybees selected average P:C ratios of 1:12, 1:14 and 1:11 on casein, royal jelly and Feed-Bee® diets respectively. The level of self-selection was confirmed using two performance measures: survival and ovarian activation. Both survival and ovarian activation differed depending on the type of protein source used. Second, we investigated if honeybees regulated their growth target, which is the amount of nutrients incorporated into growth and storage tissue, by measuring physiological parameters in honeybees confined on imbalanced complementary food combinations having different P:C ratios. Feed-Bee® was used as a protein source. The physiological parameters measured were head fresh mass, hypopharyngeal gland (HPG) development, and protein concentration in the haemolymph. The bees fed on different diet combinations with different P:C ratios maintained each of the performance measures to the same level, which supports the ability of worker honeybees to self-select their diet. The measured physiological parameters were compared with other studies to asses the appropriateness Feed-Bee® diet as a protein source for the bees. In the absence of brood the intake target is directly related to the physiological requirements of the worker bees. The behavior of these individual adult bees gives an insight in to the complex system; similar responses may be seen in nurse bees in the colony condition to obtain protein, carbohydrate and other nutrient requirements from stored pollen and nectar in the hive, either for their own nutritional requirements or for other colony members, especially larvae.
Dissertation (MScAgric)--University of Pretoria, 2010.