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Bee hive size may explain colony collapse disorder

The greater the number of worker bees, the more likely a hive can successfully rear a large population of juvenile bees.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 24, 2016 at 3:50 PM

MOSCOW, Idaho, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- New research suggests bee hives require a certain number of bees to be successful, a threshold or "critical bee size."

Under ideal ecological conditions, critical size is roughly 1,000 bees. But computer models developed by researchers at the University of Idaho suggest environmental hardships demand a higher critical threshold.

In other words, a hive threatened by disease and climate variability requires a larger population to maintain order and function.

Scientists say the bee hive is an example of the "Allee effect," a phenomenon named after animal ecologist Warder Allee.

In the 1930s, Allee suggested species require a population threshold to survive as they become rarer and struggle to find mates and hunting partners.

Experiments suggest bee hives with too few worker bees are less effective at rearing new bees and ultimately the death rate of adult bees outpaces the rearing of eggs, larvae and pupae.

In addition to feeding larvae, adult worker bees also manage the temperature of the hive, ward off enemies, and search for and retrieve food for the rest of the hive. The greater the number of worker bees, the more likely a hive can successfully rear a large population of juvenile bees.

"The tightly organized social lives of honeybees, once such an amazing adaptation for success in the world, turns out to lack resilience against the numerous environmental degradations contributed by humans across the landscape," University of Idaho professor and study author Brian Dennis said in a press release.

Dennis and his colleagues say their findings -- published in the journal PLOS ONE -- will improve decisions of wildlife and conservation managers working to maintain critical hive sizes in places vulnerable to colony collapse disorder.

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