Effects of Non-Protein Amino Acids in Nectar on Bee Survival and Behavior

  • Gherardo Bogo
  • Laura Bortolotti
  • Simona Sagona
  • Antonio Felicioli
  • Marta GalloniEmail author
  • Marta Barberis
  • Massimo Nepi


Nectar mediates complex interactions between plants and animals. Recent research has focused on nectar secondary compounds that may play a role in regulating some of these interactions. These compounds may affect the behavior of nectar feeders by interacting with their neurobiology. Non-protein amino acids (NPAAs) can constitute a large portion of the amino acid content of floral nectar, but their ecological function has, to date, not been investigated. In this study, we tested the effects of diets with low and high concentrations of γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) and β-alanine on the survival and behavior of Bombus terrestris and Apis mellifera. The most apparent effect on longevity was observed for B. terrestris workers that fed on high concentration of GABA, with longevity increased. By contrast, neither of the two NPAAs (at either concentration) had an affect on A. mellifera longevity. At the low NPAA concentration, only B. terrestris workers showed a difference in consumption, consuming more β-alanine solution than the other two solutions. By contrast, at the high NPAA concentration, only A. mellifera workers showed a difference in consumption, consuming more β-alanine solution. The effects of the NPAAs on behavior differed between the two species, with B. terrestris appearing more sensitive to the NPAAs than A. mellifera. After consuming NPAAs, B. terrestris showed changes in three (walking, flying, stationary) of the four behaviors recorded, although the effects varied with concentration and compound. In contrast, honey bees only showed a change in feeding behavior, with consumption of both NPAAs (at low concentrations) resulting in a decrease. Thus, pollinator intake of NPAAs may have important behavioral/ecological implications.


Apis mellifera Bombus terrestris GABA Nectar Pollination Plant-pollinator interactions β-Alanine γ-Amino butyric acid 



We thank Joan Rabassa Juvanteny and Mariachiara Zanichelli for laboratory assistance. Dr. Bogo was supported by a research fellowship from the University of Bologna and Council for Agricultural Research and Economics - Research Centre for Agriculture and Environment (CREA-AA).

Author Contributions

MN, MG, LB and AF conceived the ideas; GB, LB, AF and SS designed the methodology; GB, LB, MB and MG collected the data; GB, LB and MN analysed the data; GB, LB, MN, AF, SS, MB and MG led writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10886_2018_1044_MOESM1_ESM.doc (447 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 447 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Council for Agricultural Research and Economics - Research Centre for Agriculture and Environment (CREA-AA)BolognaItaly
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Life SciencesUniversity of SienaSienaItaly

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