The Bacterial Communities Associated with Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Foragers
The honey bee is a key pollinator species in decline worldwide. As part of a commercial operation, bee colonies are exposed to a variety of agricultural ecosystems throughout the year and a multitude of environmental variables that may affect the microbial balance of individuals and the hive. While many recent studies support the idea of a core microbiota in guts of younger in-hive bees, it is unknown whether this core is present in forager bees or the pollen they carry back to the hive. Additionally, several studies hypothesize that the foregut (crop), a key interface between the pollination environment and hive food stores, contains a set of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that inoculate collected pollen and act in synergy to preserve pollen stores. Here, we used a combination of 454 based 16S rRNA gene sequencing of the microbial communities of forager guts, crops, and corbicular pollen and crop plate counts to show that (1) despite a very different diet, forager guts contain a core microbiota similar to that found in younger bees, (2) corbicular pollen contains a diverse community dominated by hive-specific, environmental or phyllosphere bacteria that are not prevalent in the gut or crop, and (3) the 13 LAB found in culture-based studies are not specific to the crop but are a small subset of midgut or hindgut specific bacteria identified in many recent 454 amplicon-based studies. The crop is dominated by Lactobacillus kunkeei, and Alpha 2.2 (Acetobacteraceae), highly osmotolerant and acid resistant bacteria found in stored pollen and honey. Crop taxa at low abundance include core hindgut bacteria in transit to their primary niche, and potential pathogens or food spoilage organisms seemingly vectored from the pollination environment. We conclude that the crop microbial environment is influenced by worker task, and may function in both decontamination and inoculation.