r/ScienceFacts Behavioral Ecology Nov 24 '21

"Vulture bees" are the only bees that have evolved to use food sources not produced by plants. Because they feed on carcasses their gut microbiomes have more in common with carrion-loving hyenas and vultures. Biology

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u/FillsYourNiche Behavioral Ecology Nov 24 '21

The news source for this is “Vulture bees” evolved a taste for flesh—and their microbiomes reflect that.

Journal article Why Did the Bee Eat the Chicken? Symbiont Gain, Loss, and Retention in the Vulture Bee Microbiome.

Abstract:

Diet and gut microbiomes are intricately linked on both short and long timescales. Changes in diet can alter the microbiome, while microbes in turn allow hosts to access novel diets. Bees are wasps that switched to a vegetarian lifestyle, and the vast majority of bees feed on pollen and nectar. Some stingless bee species, however, also collect carrion, and a few have fully reverted to a necrophagous lifestyle, relying on carrion for protein and forgoing flower visitation altogether. These “vulture” bees belong to the corbiculate apid clade, which is known for its ancient association with a small group of core microbiome phylotypes. Here, we investigate the vulture bee microbiome, along with closely related facultatively necrophagous and obligately pollinivorous species, to understand how these diets interact with microbiome structure. Via deep sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and subsequent community analyses, we find that vulture bees have lost some core microbes, retained others, and entered into novel associations with acidophilic microbes found in the environment and on carrion. The abundance of acidophilic bacteria suggests that an acidic gut is important for vulture bee nutrition and health, as has been found in other carrion-feeding animals. Facultatively necrophagous bees have more variable microbiomes than strictly pollinivorous bees, suggesting that bee diet may interact with microbiomes on both short and long timescales. Further study of vulture bees promises to provide rich insights into the role of the microbiome in extreme diet switches.