How are bees and mushrooms connected?

Bees are masters of turning natural resources from plants and trees into food. They have an amazing ability to transform nectar and pollen from flowers, and saps and resins from stems and bark, into materials that feed their larvae, build the hive and protect the colony. 

Food webs and ecosystems  

The concept of a “food chain” is not new. It describes how different organisms (living beings) are connected and depend on each other for survival. This pattern is more like a food web, with multiple connections, rather than a simple chain. Importantly, if one part doesn’t work properly, the whole system can suffer. 

Considering that bees are central to providing food for people, this means that anything that effects the health and survival of bees will impact on our own survival.  

A range of different impacts on bee survival have already been reported, including in response to climate change [1], the use of specific pesticides such as neonicotinoids [2], parasite infections [3] and overproduction of single plant crops that reduce natural plant diversity.  

Bees use mushrooms 

The link between bees and fungi is a surprising connection that affects bee survival. Bees have been reported to consume the roots (mycelia) of fungi [4], which provide an alternative source of protein to pollen and other plant derived substances.  

As mushroom develop, bees dig at the base of plants and trees to feed on the mushroom’s spreading roots (mycelia). Indirectly, bees also use sap from the bark and stems of trees, which are fed by vast mushroom roots that breakdown the rotten wood from forest floors. 

Importantly, consuming the mycelia of certain mushroom species may strengthen the immunity of bees, through the absorption of antibiotic substances in the fungi, enabling them to ward off infections. A study by Paul Stamets found that after consuming the roots of specific mushroom species, including Formes and Reishi, honeybees showed a reduction in two specific viruses [5] 

Another research study found that bees supplemented with extracts of Agaricus mushrooms showed improvements in the survival from infections by a parasite that affects queen bees, called Nosema [6]. Mushroom supplementation also increased the response of some bee immunity genes. 

Mushrooms are a critical part of our ecosystem 

The link to bees is just another example of how important mushrooms are to our food security and interconnected everything is. This highlights the need to rethink how we can reduce the impact on native habitats when we use mass, single crop agriculture to feed ourselves.   

  • Ziska, L.H., et al., Rising atmospheric CO2 is reducing the protein concentration of a floral pollen source essential for North American bees. Proc Biol Sci., 2016. 283(1828): p. 20160414. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0414.
  • Alberoni, D., et al., Neonicotinoids in the agroecosystem: In-field long-term assessment on honeybee colony strength and microbiome. Sci Total Environ., 2021. 762:144116.(doi): p. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144116. Epub 2020 Dec 15.
  • Fang, Y., et al., Larval exposure to parasitic Varroa destructor mites triggers specific immune responses in different honey bee castes and species. Mol Cell Proteomics, 2022. 13(100257): p. 100257.
  • Stamets, P.E., et al., Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees. Sci Rep., 2018. 8(1): p. 13936. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-32194-8.
  • Glavinic, U., et al., Effects of Agaricus bisporus Mushroom Extract on Honey Bees Infected with Nosema ceranae. Insects., 2021. 12(10): p. 915. doi: 10.3390/insects12100915.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *