Using DNA metabarcoding to investigate honey bee foraging reveals limited flower use despite high floral availability.
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Understanding which flowers honey bees (Apis mellifera) use for forage can help us to provide suitable plants for healthy honey bee colonies. Accordingly, honey DNA metabarcoding provides a valuable tool for investigating pollen and nectar collection. We investigated early season (April and May) floral choice by honey bees provided with a very high diversity of flowering plants within the National Botanic Garden of Wales. There was a close correspondence between the phenology of flowering and the detection of plants within the honey. Within the study area there were 437 genera of plants in flower during April and May, but only 11% of these were used. Thirty-nine plant taxa were recorded from three hives but only ten at greater than 1%. All three colonies used the same core set of native or near-native plants, typically found in hedgerows and woodlands. The major plants were supplemented with a range of horticultural species, with more variation in plant choice between the honey bee colonies. We conclude that during the spring, honey bees need access to native hedgerows and woodlands to provide major plants for foraging. Gardens provide supplementary flowers that may increase the nutritional diversity of the honey bee diet.