(PI is Nancy Moran; co-PI is Jay Evans (Bee Laboratory, USDA), collaborator is Rachael Winfree (Rutgers Univ.))
Microbial gut symbionts are essential for the life of most animal species, but their diversity and functions in hosts and their responses to ecological disturbance are poorly understood. Apis mellifera, the honeybee, possesses a distinctive set of about eight symbiotic bacterial species; some of these also occur in other Apis species and in the related genus Bombus (bumblebees). This study integrates the genomic, taxonomic and functional dimensions of the biodiversity of gut symbionts in these bees. The research will determine genome sequences and metabolic capabilities for these bacterial species and probe how their abundances and gene expression respond when hosts are subjected to different environments. The consequences of altered microbiota for host fitness will be experimentally assessed under nutrient stress and pathogen challenge. The study will also characterize the taxonomic composition of the microbiota of Bombus and Apis species collected globally, with emphasis on North America and China.
These pollinator species have immense economic, ecological, and agricultural importance; this project will provide new insights into their ecological resilience as mediated by their gut microbes. The data will inform bee conservation and land management policies. This effort will also establish a collaborative exchange with Chinese scientists. Several US students, at different levels, will be trained. High school student researchers and educational activities will be sponsored through the Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. A large global collection of cryopreserved bees will be established to serve as a reference resource for future changes in bee populations. Overall, this research will provide novel insights into the biology of these important pollinators and their symbiotic microbial biodiversity.