Honey bees play a crucial role in ecosystems via pollination. However, while performing this critical ecosystem service, honey bees encounter multiple predation threats, such as weaver ants, spiders, mantises, hornets, and birds during foraging or even at their own hive. During these intense conflicts, bees release alarm pheromone to rapidly communicate with other nest mates about the present danger. However, we still know little about why and how alarm pheromone is used in plant–pollinator–predator interactions.
In a study published in Insects, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) reviewed the history of the study of honey bee alarm pheromone. They focused on the communication functions of alarm pheromone on intra-specific or inter-specific species between Apis and other predators. They also examined how plants could benefit from alarm pheromones in terms of pollination.
They found that bee alarm pheromones mediated intra-and inter-species communication. Honey bees produce alarm pheromone which initiates an alert state in other nest mates, making them ready for aggression and defense. Some compounds of honey bee alarm pheromone, such as isopentyl acetate, octyl acetate, and benzyl acetate, were found in all four Apis species (A. mellifera, A. cerana, A. dorsata, and A. florea).
Furthermore, bee alarm pheromones mediated communication between pollinators and predators/parasites. The communication between predators and pollinators is related to pollinators’ defensive fighting. The fighting organs of the Apis species produce alarm pheromone when pollinators bite with their mandibles or sting with their stingers.
“Our review intends to stimulate new studies on the neuronal, molecular, behavioral, and evolutionary levels in order to understand how alarm pheromone mediates communication in plant–pollinator–predator interactions”, said Prof. TAN Ken, principal investigator of the study.
TAN Ken Ph.D Principal Investigator
Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mengla, Yunnan 666303, China