Community Dynamics in Structure and Function of Honey Bee Gut Bacteria in Response to Winter Dietary Shift

Chenyi Li, Min Tang, Xingan Li*, Xin Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Temperate honey bees (Apis mellifera) are challenged by low temperatures and abrupt dietary shifts associated with behavioral changes during winter. Case studies have revealed drastic turnover in the gut microbiota of winter bees, highlighted by the seasonal dominance of a non-core bacterium Bartonella. However, neither biological consequence nor underlying mechanism of this microbial turnover is clear. In particular, we ask whether such changes in gut profile are related to winter dietary shift and possibly beneficial to host and associated gut microbiome? Here, we integrated evidences from genomics, metagenomics, and metabolomics in three honey bee subspecies maintained at the same locality of northern China to profile both diversity and functional variations in gut bacteria across seasons. Our results showed that winter dominance of Bartonella was shared in all tested honey bee lineages. This seasonal change was likely a consequence of winter dietary shifts characterized by greatly reduced pollen consumption and accumulation of metabolic waste due to restricted excretion. Bartonella showed expanded genomic capacity in utilizing more diverse energy substrates, such as converting metabolic wastes lactate and ethanol into pyruvate, an energy source for self-utilization and possibly also for host and other symbionts. Furthermore, Bartonella was the only bacterium capable of both producing and secreting tryptophan and phenylalanine, whose metabolic products were detected in bee guts, even though all gut bacteria lacked relevant digestion enzymes. These results thus suggested a possible mechanism where the gut bacteria might benefit the host by supplementing them with essential amino acids lacking in a protein shortage diet.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Apis mellifera
  • Bartonella
  • essential amino acids
  • overwintering
  • pollen shortage


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