Danny F. Minahan
Danny has a BA from the University of Colorado (2012), and a PhD in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2019). His PhD research took a comparative approach to test predictions of temporal foraging and resource collection patterns by honey bees and bumble bees based on their known foraging strategies, notably dance communication and trapline foraging, respectively. As a Zuckerman Postdoctoral Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, B. Triwaks Bee Research Center, Danny is seeking to understand how dietary nutrient ratios, notably that of omega 6:3 effects the ontogeny of foraging in honey bees, and their spatial cognitive abilities
Brief (very brief) bee primer
Bees belong to a diverse group of insects, the Apoidea, and comprise an estimated 20,000 species globally, with over 4,000 species in North America. Perhaps the most well known of these species is the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, with a near cosmopolitan distribution owing to importation around the world for agriculture (e.g. both crop pollination and honey production). However, honey bees are only native to areas around the Middle East, Asia, and eastern Europe. Bumble bees are another well known group of bees who thrive in cooler environments, whether it be higher altitudes or latitudes. Bumble bees are less heavily managed than honey bees, however that is changing as we understand more about their nesting biology. Indeed, two species, Bombus impatiens in North America, and Bombus terrestris in Europe have been successfully domesticated and are used for pollination, particularly in greenhouses, and for both applied and basic biology research.
Both bee species are highly social forming structured colonies that demonstrate a division of labor among workers and reproductives (e.g. queens). Honey bee colonies will nest in various cavities, such as human made structures (e.g. apiary hives or houses) or trees, and can number in the tens of thousands of individual bees. Bumble bees on the other hand, are ground nesters living in colonies of tens to hundreds of individuals. In contrast to these species, the majority of bee species are solitary, either nesting completely independently, or in gregariously nearby to other individuals of the same or other species.
Most of my research has been with honey bees, Apis mellifera L. and bumble bees Bombus impatiens. However, I have assisted with projects studying the managed alfalfa leaf-cutter bee, Megachile rotundata as well. Currently, I am focused on nutritional aspects of cognition using honey bees as a model system. Considering our ability to manage honey bees, their importance to agriculture, and the long history with humans they have moved up the ranks as one of most studied animals. This has resulted in a great deal of information known about honey bees, and therefore not only informs best management practices in apiculture, but also provides a valuable system to understand how genetics and the environment influence behavior and decision making more broadly.
Previous research in the Shafir Lab demonstrated learning impairment in bees fed a high omega 6:3 ratio diet (Arien et al. 2015; Arien et al. 2018), and my postdoctoral work seeks to understand the consequences of such a diet to foraging and cognitive ability. This is a natural extension of my PhD research which found spatiotemporally persistent differences in honey bee and bumble bee foraging activity (Minahan and Brunet 2018), along with their patterns of pollen collection and nutrient acquisition (Minahan and Brunet in prep). In addition to contributing to our understanding of cognition in animals, these results should be of benefit to bee keepers, land managers, and agricultural practitioners, along with conservation groups interested in supporting healthy pollinator habitat, and how this can be balanced with socioeconomic concerns.
Figure below: Marking 1-day old honey bees in the lab to monitor their age and foraging behavior at the hive entrance