9. Conclusions and future directions

In this paper we have primarily discussed methods for maintaining adult worker honey bees in vitro in the laboratory. The main purpose for providing these recommendations is to promote standardisation of research methods that will facilitate comparison of data generated by different laboratories. Although methods for maintaining adult workers in vitro are typically capable of sustaining workers for many weeks, the real issue lies in creating an experimental environment that can produce biologically relevant data. Honey bees are highly social organisms; no doubt placing 20 workers in a cage without a queen will have consequences for their behaviour and physiology. Additionally, proper nutrition is paramount to immune responses of all animals, including honey bees (Alaux et al., 2010), yet the majority of laboratory experiments feed carbohydrates only, ignoring key nutrients honey bees normally consume in the natural environment (Brodschneider and Crailsheim, 2010). Researchers should also assume that laboratory settings provide a relatively stressed environment compared to the colony arena, which has many buffering mechanisms to fend off external threats. Therefore, most studies performed in the laboratory should represent the first step in performing hypothesis-driven research, with further studies carried out under natural “field” conditions.

Ultimately, a laboratory setting can provide an environment in which one can perform controlled investigations using honey bees to test falsifiable hypotheses using appropriate experimental designs. Given the potential influence of the myriad variants in a laboratory, researchers must maintain honey bees under appropriate and repeatable conditions, and should always provide sufficient details about their experiments so that data can be more easily interpreted and compared.