Patch departure rules in Bumblebees: evidence of a decremental motivational mechanism

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (Impact Factor: 2.75). 01/2007; 61:1707-1715. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-007-0402-6

ABSTRACT The patch living rules of a pollinator, the bumblebee Bombus terrestris L., are studied here in the framework of motivational models widely used for parasitoids: The rewarding events found during the foraging process are supposed to increase or decrease suddenly the tendency of the insect to stay in the current patch and therefore to adjust the patch residence time to the patch profitability. The foraging behaviour of these pollinators was observed in two environment types to determine their patch-leaving decisions. The rich environment was composed of male-fertile flowers, offering pollen and nectar, and the poor one of male-sterile flowers, offering little nectar and no pollen. The experimental design consisted of a patch system in which inflorescences were evenly arranged in two rows (1 m distance). Residence times of foragers inside inflorescences and rows were analysed by a Cox proportional hazards model, taking into account recent and past experience acquired during the foraging bout. Most of the results showed a decremental motivational mechanism, that is, a reduction in the residence time on the inflorescence or in the row related to exploitation of flowers within inflorescences and inflorescences within rows These results indicate that bumblebees tend to leave the patch using departure rules similar to those found in parasitoids. The results also provide information on the memory, learning and evaluating capabilities of bumblebees especially when rich and poor environments were compared. The patch-leaving mechanism suggested by this study is consistent with the central place foraging theory.

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    ABSTRACT: Efficient foragers avoid returning to food sources that they had previously depleted. Bombus terrestris bumblebees use a counting-like strategy to leave Alcea setosa flowers just after visiting all of their five nectaries. We tested whether a similar strategy is employed by solitary Eucera sp. bees that also forage on A. setosa. Analyses of 261 video-recorded flower visits showed that the bees most commonly probed five nectaries, but occasionally (in 7.8% of visits) continued to a nectary they had already visited. Probing durations that preceded flower departures were generally shorter than probings that were followed by an additional nectary visit in the same flower. Assuming that probing durations correlate with nectar volumes, this suggests that flower departure frequencies increased after probing of low-rewarding nectaries. The flowers' spatial attributes were not used as departure cues, but the bees may have left flowers in response to scent marks on previously visited nectaries. We conclude that Eucera females do not exhibit numerical competence as a mechanism for efficient patch use, but rather a combination of a reward-based leaving rule and scent-marking. The bees' foraging pattern is compatible with Waage's (1979, Journal of Animal Ecology, 48, 353-371) patch departure rule, which states that the tendency to leave a foraging patch increases with time, and decreases when food items are encountered. Thus, Eucera resemble bumblebees in avoiding most revisits to already-visited nectaries, but use a different foraging strategy to do so. This difference may reflect lower learning capabilities of solitary bee species compared to social ones.
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    ABSTRACT: Highlights ► Do solitary bees use a counting-like strategy to forage efficiently, as bumblebees do? ► Eucera bees often depart Alcea setosa flowers after probing all of their five nectaries. ► They use a reward-based leaving rule and scent marking to avoid nectary revisits. ► Unlike bumblebees, they do not seem to use numerical information for this task. ► This difference may reflect the lower learning capabilities of solitary bees.
    Animal Behaviour - ANIM BEHAV. 12/2011;

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