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Insectes Soc. 2018;65(3):419-429. doi: 10.1007/s00040-018-0624-9. Epub 2018 May 19.

The gut microbiome is associated with behavioural task in honey bees.

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1School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QG UK.
2Present Address: Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
3School of Earth, Environment and Biological Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point, Brisbane, 4000 Australia.
4Institut de biologie de l'Ecole normale supérieure (IBENS), Ecole normale supérieure, CNRS, INSERM, PSL Université Paris, 75005 Paris, France.
5Structural and Computational Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany.
6Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, 13125 Berlin, Germany.
7Department of Bioinformatics, University of Würzburg, 97074 Würzburg, Germany.
8Department of Fundamental Microbiology, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


The gut microbiome is recognised as playing an integral role in the health and ecology of a wide variety of animal taxa. However, the relationship between social behavioural traits and the microbial community has received little attention. Honey bees are highly social and the workers perform different behavioural tasks in the colony that cause them to be exposed to different local environments. Here we examined whether the gut microbial community composition of worker honey bees is associated with the behavioural tasks they perform, and therefore also the local environment they are exposed to. We set up five observation hives, in which all workers were matched in age and observed the behaviour of marked bees in each colony over 4 days. The gut bacterial communities of bees seen performing predominantly foraging or predominantly in nest tasks were then characterised and compared based on amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Our results show that some core members of the unique honey bee gut bacterial community are represented in different relative abundances in bees performing different behavioural tasks. The differentially represented bacterial taxa include some thought to be important in carbohydrate metabolism and transport, and also linked to bee health. The results suggest an influence of task-related local environment exposure and diet on the honey bee gut microbial community and identify focal core taxa for further functional analyses.


Behaviour; Diet; Division of labour; Gut bacteria; Honey bee; Local environment

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