Who Doesn't Love Keto? Researchers Find What Diet Bees Like Most

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
Honeybee on a Flower

Image by Meryl Dieter / iStock

The keto diet has everyone abuzz—everyone but the bees, that is.

Bees are one of the buzziest topics of climate change, with trendy apparel for sale and a Greenpeace movement driving the #SaveTheBees movement. But as studies emerge showing us that these primary pollinators are at serious risk as global temperatures rise, research has started to turn toward ways to help the bees continue to thrive.

Scientists want to know bees' preferred diet.

Separate from doing what we can to mitigate climate change, studying ways to support the bee population can help us ensure that we don't lose these important species.

Studies have found that bees, and bumblebees, in particular, prefer certain plants over others. But a recent study wanted to determine more broadly what nutrients the bees were after, and as it turns out, they're not as into the high-fat keto diet craze as the rest of us.

"Most bee researchers assumed that bees, like other herbivores, mainly consider the protein content when choosing their food," explained Sara Leonhardt, Ph.D., a professor who specializes in plant-insect interactions.

Using observational research, the project sought to find out which nutrients bees can actually taste in their food (specifically in pollen) and how that affects their feeding habits. A clear relationship emerged between fat levels in the pollen and the bees' preference.

"The more fat the pollen contained, the less the bumblebees consumed that pollen," Leonhardt concluded. They found that amino acid levels in the pollen didn't affect the bees' preference, but that bee survival rates dropped when they were given no choice but the added-protein pollen—yes, they literally died rather than eat the altered over-fatty pollen.

Based on these findings, the researchers believe that higher fat content has a negative impact on survival and reproduction in bees, hence their avoidance.

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How does this help the bees?

More knowledge of bees' survival and reproductive habits can help us protect their populations in the face of challenges from a rising global temperature point. Knowledge of the relationship between what bees like in their food sources and what plants they love can help us design spaces that cater to their needs.

"The bees can taste what is good for them and collect their food accordingly," said Leonhardt.

According to researchers, "This may lead to better understanding the effect of variation in flowering plant species on bees, and it may improve protective measures such as flower strips in agricultural landscapes." 

Bees' role in our ecosystem has an immediate impact on humans: They're one of the biggest pollinators of many of our food sources. "Bee mortality therefore affects food supply for human beings," said Leonhardt.

Going forward, researchers plan to focus on creating a list to figure out which plants' pollen has nutrient content that appeals to bees, to help us continue efforts to #SaveTheBees with careful planning for making our spaces work for them.

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