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Effects of nectar robbing on nectar dynamics and bumblebee foraging strategies in Linaria vulgaris (Scrophulariaceae)


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Differences in morphology among bumblebee species sharing a nectar resource may lead to variation in foraging behaviour and efficiency. Less efficient bumblebees might opportunistically switch foraging strategies from legitimate visitation to secondary robbing when hole-biting primary robbers are present. We observed various aspects of pollination and nectar robbing ecology of Linaria vulgaris in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, with emphasis on the role of bumblebee proboscis length. Bees can extract nectar from a nectar spur legitimately, by entering the front of the flower, or illegitimately, by biting or reusing holes in the spur. Although L. vulgaris flowers are apparently adapted for pollination by long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees visited them legitimately for trace amounts of nectar but switched to secondary robbing in the presence of primary robbers. Longer-tongued bees removed more nectar in less time than did shorter-tongued bees, and were less likely to switch to secondary robbing even when ∼100% of flowers had been pierced. As the proportion of robbed flowers in the population increased, the relative number of legitimate visits decreased while the relative number of robbing visits increased. Robbing decreased nectar standing crop and increased the proportion of empty flowers per inflorescence. Despite these potentially detrimental effects of robbers, differences in inflorescence use among robbers and pollinators, and the placement of holes made by primary robbers, may mitigate negative effects of nectar robbing in L. vulgaris. We discuss some of the reasons that L. vulgaris pollination ecology and growth form might temper the potentially negative effect of nectar robbing.
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Effects of nectar robbing on nectar dynamics and bumblebee foraging
strategies in Linaria vulgaris (Scrophulariaceae)
Daniel A. Newman and James D. Thomson
Newman, D. A. and Thomson, J. D. 2005. Effects of nectar robbing on nectar dynamics
and bumblebee foraging strategies in Linaria vulgaris (Scrophulariaceae). /Oikos 110:
309 /320.
Differences in morphology among bumblebee species sharing a nectar resource may
lead to variation in foraging behaviour and efficiency. Less efficient bumblebees might
opportunistically switch foraging strategies from legitimate visitation to secondary
robbing when hole-biting primary robbers are present. We observed various aspects of
pollination and nectar robbing ecology of Linaria vulgaris in the Colorado Rocky
Mountains, with emphasis on the role of bumblebee proboscis length. Bees can extract
nectar from a nectar spur legitimately, by entering the front of the flower, or
illegitimately, by biting or reusing holes in the spur. Although L. vulgaris flowers are
apparently adapted for pollination by long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees visited
them legitimately for trace amounts of nectar but switched to secondary robbing in the
presence of primary robbers. Longer-tongued bees removed more nectar in less time
than did shorter-tongued bees, and were less likely to switch to secondary robbing even
/100% of flowers had been pierced. As the proportion of robbed flowers in the
population increased, the relative number of legitimate visits decreased while the
relative number of robbing visits increased. Robbing decreased nectar standing crop
and increased the proportion of empty flowers per inflorescence. Despite these
potentially detrimental effects of robbers, differences in inflorescence use among
robbers and pollinators, and the placement of holes made by primary robbers, may
mitigate negative effects of nectar robbing in L. vulgaris. We discuss some of the
reasons that L. vulgaris pollination ecology and growth form might temper the
potentially negative effect of nectar robbing.
D. A. Newman and J. D. Thomson, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Toronto, 25 Harbord
Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5G 3G5 ( and Rocky
Mountain Biological Laboratory, Gothic, CO 81224, USA.
Floral adaptations that promote pollen transport by
pollinators, which include some of the most striking
examples of plant/animal coevolution, are often inter-
preted as evidence of specialization to a specific polli-
nator type (Castellanos et al. 2003, 2004). Specialized
floral morphology may limit access to nectar and pollen
to visitors that effectively transport pollen, by excluding
inefficient pollinators. However, specialized flowers are
vulnerable to exploitation by parasites of plant/polli-
nator mutualisms (sensu Mainero and del Rio 1985)
that, by removing nectar without pollinating, may have
detrimental consequences for plant fitness (Roubik et al.
1985, Irwin and Brody 1998, 1999, 2000, Traveset et al.
1998, Navarro 2001).
Nectar robbers are animals that pierce flowers to
obtain nectar, usually without effecting pollination
(primary robbing). Other nectar-seeking animals, includ-
ing corruptible pollinators, can then exploit robber-made
holes (secondary robbing). Changes in pollinator beha-
viour due to nectar robbing may have positive, neutral,
or negative effects on plant fitness (Maloof and Inouye
2000, Irwin et al. 2001), although most authors consider
Accepted 18 January 2005
Copyright #OIKOS 2005
ISSN 0030-1299
OIKOS 110: 309 /320, 2005
OIKOS 110:2 (2005) 309
robbers to be detrimental (Proctor et al. 1996, Yu 2001,
Anderson and Midgley 2002, Stanton 2003). Negative
effects are typically attributed to pollinator avoidance of
robbed plants with reduced nectar rewards (Irwin and
Brody 1999, Irwin 2000, Navarro 2001); however,
pollinators that switch from legitimate visitation to
secondary robbing may be more problematic for plants
than pollinator avoidance. For example, bees are unlikely
to avoid robbed flowers, as they are not able to
discriminate between rewarding and unrewarding flow-
ers without sampling (Maloof and Inouye 2000). Bee-
pollinated flowers are therefore likely to receive at least
some legitimate visits per bee, provided not all visitors
switch to secondary robbing. If bees are numerous,
female fitness should not suffer much (Irwin et al.
2001) and male fitness may even increase (Zimmerman
and Cook 1985, Richardson 2004, but see Irwin 2003). If
avoidance of robbed flowers does not occur, switches to
secondary robbing will divert pollinators from serving
the plants; this may prove costly to the robbed plants if
pollinators in the population are limiting. If avoidance of
robbed flowers does occur, secondary robbers will
compound its costs by depleting the remaining nectar
rewards that could entice less wary pollinators. Despite
these potential impacts of nectar robbers on plants, we
know of no ecological studies investigating the role of
secondary robbers. It is noteworthy that agricultural
papers on nectar robbing typically refer not to the
problems of pollinator deterrence, but to secondary
robbing (Free 1962, 1965, Eaton and Stewart 1969,
Poulsen 1973 cited in Goulson 2003, Dedej and
Delaplane 2003, 2004). Indeed, Eaton and Stewart
(1969, p. 150) were sufficiently alarmed by the rate
at which honeybees were abandoning legitimate visita-
tion of Vaccinium corymbosum crops to use holes made
by B. occidentalis occidentalis that they recommended
‘‘eliminating this subspecies from areas of high-
bush blueberry plantings’’. Their concerns may
have been warranted: Dedej and Delaplane (2004) found
that secondary robbing of the related V. ashei by
honeybees caused significant reductions in seed set and
fruit size.
Maloof and Inouye (2000), in the hope of spurring
research into finding generalities about nectar robbing,
listed four factors that may determine whether its effects
are negative, neutral or positive. (1) The identity of the
pollinators. Differences among pollinators may cause
species to react differentially to the activities of nectar
robbers; some may become secondary robbers, others
may avoid plants altogether, and others still may not
respond at all. A small change in the cost/benefit
balance of the interaction /such as the appearance of
an easier route to nectar /may cause some visitors to
switch from mutualistic pollinators to opportunistic
robbers. Therefore, the effects of nectar robbing on
plants may depend on how different pollinator species
respond to the presence of robbed flowers, on how
effective each pollinator is at transporting pollen (Wilson
and Thomson 1991, Thomson and Thomson 1992), and
on the relative abundances and visitation rates of each of
these species (Herrera 1987, Pellmyr and Thompson
1996). For example, if a plant’s most effective pollinator
is not deterred from robbed plants and does not become
a secondary robber, the fitness effects for the plant will
most likely be minimal; on the other hand, if only
mediocre or rare pollinators remain, robbed plants will
suffer relative to unrobbed neighbours. Even taxonomi-
cally similar pollinator species may vary: although some
authors have treated bumblebee species as a behaviou-
rally homogeneous group, Goulson et al. (1998) found
that species responded differently to floral display size,
and cautioned against treating all of them as equivalent
despite superficial similarities in foraging behaviour.
(2) The amount of nectar that robbers remove is also
an important factor in determining the impacts of nectar
robbing. Reductions in nectar standing crop can nega-
tively affect plants by discouraging pollinators (Irwin
2000), and increased variability in nectar volume can
positively affect plants by promoting outcrossing
(Harder and Real 1987, Biernaskie et al. 2002). The
effects of nectar robbers on nectar standing crop may
also be related to the morphology of the plant’s flowers.
In flowers that accumulate nectar at, or close to, the site
of nectar production (the nectaries), nectar robbers can
easily pierce corollas at that site, and therefore drain all
available nectar (e.g. Ipomopsis aggregata; Irwin 2000).
In flowers whose nectar is presented apart from its
production site, as is the case in some spurred flowers
(Vogel 1998), primary robbers may face a choice of
where to bite holes; they could either pierce flowers near
the nectaries to drain nectar as it is produced, or pierce
the spurs to obtain nectar accumulation. If primary
robbers pierce flowers far from the location of the
standing crop, secondary robbers may concentrate on
nectar easily accessible from the holes (e.g. the nectaries,
or the nectar ducts, Vogel 1998), while legitimate visitors
may still obtain nectar from the tip of the spur. Such an
effect might reduce the potential negative effects of
nectar robbers on nectar standing crop. (3) The plant’s
growth form may affect pollinator and robber behaviour
in ways that could attenuate or amplify the effects of
nectar robbing. Plant with many flowers, rich nectar
rewards, or clonal growth may suffer from extensive
receipt of self-pollen by pollinators using area-restricted
searches (Pyke 1978, Ohashi 2002); nectar robbers,
by reducing rewards or by creating increased variability
in nectar standing crop, might benefit plants by
encouraging pollinators to leave clonal patches.
Some plant architectures may also directly influence
of nectar robbers and their impacts on plants. The
degree of flower congestion on an inflorescence could
increase nectar robbers’ handling time, and has been
310 OIKOS 110:2 (2005)
hypothesized to dissuade nectar robbers by making
spurs or nectaries difficult to reach (Fogg 1950, Inouye
1983). (4) If alternate nectar resources are abundant,
pollinators faced with a nectar-robbed food source can
easily switch to other plant species. If such alternatives
are scarce, however, they may be forced to remain
constant (Irwin et al. 2001), and pollination will not be
strongly affected.
In the Colorado Rocky Mountains, we observed a
morphologically variable group of bumblebee species
foraging on a single, apparently highly specialized, plant
species. We paid specific attention to the differences in
tongue-length among species and to the role that nectar-
robbing bumblebees play in the relationships between a
plant, Linaria vulgaris, and its pollinators. We used the
first three of Maloof and Inouye’s (2000) aforemen-
tioned factors as guidelines for the following five
questions: (1) does the gradual increase in robbing
activity in L. vulgaris patches over a season affect
pollinator and secondary robber assemblages? (2) are
shorter-tongued bumblebees most likely to become
secondary robbers? (3) does bumblebee foraging effi-
ciency vary among species with different proboscis
lengths? (4) how does robbing affect nectar rewards
(standing crop) in L. vulgaris? and how might these
effects affect bumblebee behaviour? and (5) do legitimate
and robbing visitors differ in their use of L. vulgaris
Study site and system
We conducted the study between July 24 and August
16, 2003, at the Rocky Mountain Biological Labo-
ratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado (106859?15ƒN;
38857?30ƒW; 2900 m). Weather during this period was
consistently sunny in the mornings and more or less
cloudy in the afternoons; rain was rare and intermittent
late in the day, but became increasingly frequent and
persistent by the second week of August. In all, we
observed plants in ten patches within the town of
Gothic; all of these were located in disturbed soils on
roadsides or near human housing, and contained
between approximately 50 to several thousand individual
Linaria vulgaris Mill. (Scrophulariaceae) is a long-
lived perennial herb introduced to New England in the
1700s, and established in the North American west since
at least the early 1900s. It is a noxious weed in pastures
and other agricultural lands, due in large part to its
aggressive clonal propagation and prolific production of
small, winged seeds (Saner et al. 1995). Ramets have
several racemose inflorescences with numerous yellow
flowers (per inflorescence mean9
/SD in this population:
/3.64; n/155; range/1/39) that produce nectar
at the base of the ovaries, but present it in the end of long
spurs (mean9
/SD in this population: 13.379/3.04 mm;
/673). Older flowers are generally found lower on the
inflorescence. The vestibular flowers are kept closed,
and, as such, limit the availability of nectar rewards to
pollinators that are strong enough to pry open the
corolla lips (bumblebees and other robust bees). Very
small insects, and hummingbirds and hawkmoths whose
mouthparts are thin and long enough to fit between the
corolla lips can also obtain nectar, although they
probably do not pollinate (D. A. Newman, pers. obs.).
Linaria vulgaris flowers conform to the classic bumble-
bee syndrome, and authors typically describe them as
being adapted to pollination by long-tongued bumble-
bees, stating that shorter-tongued bees are unable to
reach the nectar legitimately (Hill 1909, Proctor et al.
1996, Stout et al. 1998, 2000, Corbet et al. 2001). Linaria
vulgaris is particularly useful for foraging studies
because its nectar spurs are translucent, a feature that
allowed us to measure the height of nectar (which
correlates strongly with volume; r
/0.98, p B/0.01;
Nepi et al. 2002) without removing it or otherwise
damaging the plant.
Of nine bumblebee species observed at the RMBL in
2003, five of them were common enough on L. vulgaris
for inclusion in statistical analyses; of those, only
three are included in all experimental and observational
studies described below. Bombus flavifrons Cresson,
a species with an intermediate tongue length (7.3 mm,
Pyke 1982; tongue lengths listed here refer only
to workers) was the most common. Bombus bifarius
Cresson, a short-tongued (5.8 mm, Pyke 1982)
species and B. appositus Cresson, a large long-tongued
(10.5 mm, Pyke 1982) species, were also abundant.
Bombus occidentalis Greene, a large short-tongued
(5.7 mm, Pyke 1982) species well known for its ability
to rob flowers, was rare early in the season but became
more common by the end of July; it does not figure in all
studies in this paper due to its rarity in the early summer.
Bombus occidentalis robs L. vulgaris flowers by chewing
holes in the spur (Corbet et al. 1981, Stout et al. 1998,
2000, Irwin et al. 2001, Irwin and Maloof 2002). Bombus
californicus Smith, another large long-tongued species,
was only occasionally common, and then only in some
sites; like B. occidentalis, it does not figure in every study
for this reason. These five species are very easy to
identify, even in flight, due to marked differences in size
and pile colour patterns. Because size variation may be
partially responsible for differences in foraging efficiency
among species, we measured the radial cell length
(Harder 1982) of worker bumblebees of the four species
listed above. We measured the radial cell on each bee’s
right wing with callipers. These bees were either caught
wild near the RMBL in 2002 and 2003, or borrowed
from the RMBL insect collection.
OIKOS 110:2 (2005) 311
Study 1. Bumblebee abundances and foraging
On nine sunny days between July 17 and August 14, we
haphazardly chose a cluster of five ramets in bloom (i.e.
close neighbours), and observed bumblebee activity for
five minutes. We repeated this protocol twice a day (once
in the mid morning and again in the mid afternoon) at
ten sites in the Gothic townsite, except in mid July when
only two patches were blooming. During these observa-
tion periods, we identified visiting bumblebees to species,
and recorded each individual’s foraging strategy (legit-
imate versus robbing).
Study 2. Bumblebee foraging efficiency
Nectar removal and handling time (experimental)
In order to understand why some pollinator species
switch to secondary robbing, we compared the foraging
efficiency of bumblebee species with different proboscis
lengths. We collected inflorescences and kept them in
water overnight to allow nectar to accumulate in the
spurs. The following day, we cut off flowers until each
inflorescence had ten flowers, and individually numbered
them with permanent marker. We then measured nectar
height in the spurs with a digital calliper. Immediately
after this, we put out the inflorescence next to a natural
L. vulgaris patch, and waited for the first bumblebee
visit. We videotaped the visits with a handheld digital
video camera in order to measure handling times for
individual bees, which we did by watching the video
sequences in slow motion (5
/real time). We measured
handling time (access time
/probing time) from the
moment the bumblebee aimed its head downward to
open the flower until it pulled out of the flower and
groomed its head and thorax (both the starting and
ending behaviours are highly stereotypical, and similar
across species). After the bee left the inflorescence, we
re-measured the height of nectar in the spurs. We
conducted this experiment for legitimate visitors, using
unrobbed inflorescences, and for robbers using pre-
viously robbed inflorescences.
Handling time (observational)
Since we had allowed unusually large amounts of nectar
to accumulate in the experiment described above, hand-
ling times by bumblebees were artificially long. For a
more natural account of handling time differences
among species, we also followed wild bumblebees fora-
ging on unmanipulated L. vulgaris plants and video-
taped them on as many flowers as possible. Later, we
viewed the videocassettes and measured handling time as
Study 3. Nectar in robbed and unrobbed flowers
Nectar standing crop in robbed and unrobbed flowers
On July 28 and August 2, we randomly collected flowers
from L. vulgaris in five patches in the townsite of
Gothic. We only removed one flower per raceme. We
scored each flower as robbed or unrobbed, and measured
the height of nectar in the spur. On the morning of
August 15, we covered the spurs of 46 haphazardly
chosen flowers with the tapered end of disposable
micropipette tips, which we stuck on with Minwax
Polycrylic finish (at this time, we had to actively protect
spurs since robbers were biting almost all available
flowers). As a sham control, we also glued half-pipette
tips onto the spurs of 46 other flowers in a way that
would allow robbers to pierce or reuse holes. After six
hours, we collected the flowers and measured the nectar
height as described above.
Location of bites on robbed flowers
On August 14 and 17, to investigate whether robbers bite
holes at specific location on the nectar spur, we excluded
bumblebees from several racemes to allow nectar accu-
mulation, measured nectar standing crop and spur
length on 100 marked flowers, and placed the inflor-
escences into natural L. vulgaris patches with high
bumblebee activity. Four hours later, we collected the
marked flowers and measured the location of the robber
holes (i.e. the distance between the tip of the spur and
the bottom of the hole).
Study 4. Vertical patterns of nectar standing crop
and bumblebee behaviour on L. vulgaris
Bumblebee visitation patterns on inflorescences: location
of flower visits on inflorescences
Bumblebee species may visit the vertical inflorescences
of L. vulgaris differently, with potential consequences
to pollen transport and the effects of nectar robbing.
On August 12/13, and 15 /16, we randomly chose
an inflorescence (typically one that had more than
10 flowers) and observed the behaviour of the first
bumblebee visitor. We scored the visit as occurring
on the bottom, top, or both halves of the inflorescence,
and identified the bumblebee species and its foraging
Bumblebee visitation patterns on inflorescences: effect of
flower congestion
Along with the observations above, we scored the flower
density in of each inflorescence into three categories:
sparse (no overlap between flowers and the spurs
of flowers above them), intermediate (some overlap
between flowers, but spurs of the upper flowers are
312 OIKOS 110:2 (2005)
clearly visible), and dense (flowers almost completely
hide the spurs of the upper flowers).
Nectar standing crop, nectar accumulation, and flower
location on inflorescences
We collected 112 inflorescences between August 3 and 8,
and, recording the vertical location of flowers along the
inflorescence, measured nectar standing crop and the
presence or absence of robber holes. To compare nectar
standing crop (which is at least partially determined by
the activity of floral visitors) with actual nectar produc-
tion rates, we also covered patches of inflorescences with
metal cages covered with bridal veil (0.5 m in length and
width, 1.0 m tall) to prevent bee visitation. Twenty-four
hours later, we collected inflorescences and took the
same measurements as described above.
Floral visitors
Seven bumblebee species visited L. vulgaris. In addition
to the five species listed above, we occasionally saw
B. mixtus, a short-tongued species (all secondarily
robbing) and B. nevadensis, a long-tongued species (all
legitimate except once, by a particularly small worker).
In late June 2003, bumblebee numbers were unusually
low at the RMBL (N. M. Waser and D. W. Inouye, pers.
comm.), but numbers grew rapidly in early July; by late
July, bumblebees were so numerous in all L. vulgaris
patches that we very frequently observed more than one
bee per inflorescence. Anthophora furcata-terminalis
Cresson was an uncommon but regular legitimate
visitor throughout the summer. Aside from bumblebees,
secondary robbers included ants (Formica fusca ,
F. lasioides,Tapinoma spp) and unidentified lepidoptera
and diptera. Long-tongued bumblebee species (B. appo-
situs,B. californicus and B. nevadensis) only visited
legitimately, with a single aforementioned exception. We
never saw B. occidentalis visiting legitimately.
Bumblebee species collected at Gothic, Colorado,
varied significantly in radial cell length (Kruskal/Wallis
test for workers only: H
/42.167, df/3, pB/0.0001,
Fig. 1). Larger species, with the exception of B.
occidentalis, have longer tongues.
Study 1. Bumblebee species abundances and
foraging strategies
Before B. occidentalis began foraging on L. vulgaris
around July 24, all flower visits to the plant were
legitimate. Bombus flavifrons and B. appositus made
most of these visits, although the short-tongued
B. bifarius was also quite common (Fig. 2a). Only a
few days after we observed the first nectar robbers, some
bees had already begun to secondarily rob (Fig. 2b). By
the second week of August, secondarily robbing
B. flavifrons and B. bifarius were making almost all of
the observed visits, although a small proportion of
individuals from both species remained legitimate
throughout the study. Bombus occidentalis , although
active enough to pierce nearly 100% of the flowers at
Fig. 1. Radial cell length differences among the four common
bumblebees species used in this study. Bombus bifarius and
B. occidentalis have short proboscides, B. flavifrons has an
intermediate proboscis length, and B. appositus has a long
proboscis. Bombus californicus is excluded due to lack of
specimens available for measurement.
Fig. 2. Mean number of (a) legitimately visiting and (b)
primary and secondary robbing bumblebees during five-minute
observations of L. vulgaris patches. Dates refer to days in July
and August 2003; note that this axis is not to scale. B. appositus
and B. californicus are shown together under ‘‘long-tongued’’,
although B. appositus represents the great majority of observa-
tions in this category. The ‘‘others’’ category includes rare
bumblebees (B. mixtus,B. nevadensis ) and non-Bombus insects.
OIKOS 110:2 (2005) 313
the RMBL, only made up a small proportion of the total
observed visits to L. vulgaris. Although all bumblebee
populations increased throughout the summer, the
absolute number of legitimate visits by all species did
not increase significantly (r
/0.330, p /0.368, n /9),
and the proportion of legitimate visits by all species
declined significantly (r
//0.905, p/0.0008, n/9),
as did the proportion of visits by long-tongued
species (r
//0.867, p/0.002, n/9; most of these
are B. appositus).
Study 2. Foraging efficiency of bumblebee species
The long-tongued B. appositus was much more efficient
than the other species in both handling time and nectar
removal (Table 1). Bombus flavifrons was intermediately
efficient. Bombus bifarius workers have such short
proboscides that they could very rarely reach the nectar
standing crop legitimately; therefore the nectar removal
data appear to show zero reward for this species.
However, these workers licked the back of spurs along
the duct that channels nectar (Vogel 1998), and were still
getting a small, if immeasurable, reward. Although some
B. flavifrons workers could reach up to half of the
available standing crop, others only licked the nectar
duct. Similarly, all three species of primary and second-
ary robbers did not drink from the nectar standing crop
while robbing, but licked upward along the nectar duct
to probe the base of the ovary where the nectaries are
located (Fig. 3). Very few robbers visited the inflor-
escences that we set out for them; this is puzzling,
because robbers were much more common than legit-
imate visitors at the time of the experiment.
Study 3. Effects of robbing on nectar standing crop
Nectar standing crop in robbed and unrobbed flowers
Out of 68 flowers randomly collected on July 28, 38
(56%) were robbed. Unrobbed flowers contained sig-
nificantly more nectar than robbed flowers (mean9
/0.303 mm and 0.6329/0.222 mm, respectively;
Mann/Whitney U test; Z/2.379, p/0.017), and were
significantly more likely to contain at least some nectar
/15.583, df /1, p /0.017). Every one of the 135
flowers collected on August 2 was robbed, and therefore
no nectar comparison was possible. Out of 46 ‘‘sham-
protected’’ flowers on August 15, 45 (98%) were robbed
after six hours. In this case, flowers that we had
protected from robbers had significantly more nectar
than those whose spurs were only partly covered by
pipette tips (mean9
/SE: 1.139/0.227 mm and 0.3199/
0.070 mm, respectively; Mann/Whitney U test;
/2.067, p/0.039).
Location of bites on robbed flowers
In unmanipulated flowers, most of the holes made by
B. occidentalis were located just below the level of the
ovary, and therefore any nectar in the spurs was out of
tongue’s reach for most visitors; indeed, almost all
primary and secondary robbing visits involved bees
licking upwards along the back of the spur (in the
‘‘nectar duct’’, Vogel 1998; Fig. 3a). Bombus flavifrons
workers occasionally licked downwards into the spur,
and their relatively long proboscides could probably
reach some of the standing crop.
Out of the 100 flowers that we left out for four hours,
98 were robbed. The locations of holes relative to the
height of nectar in the spurs suggest that B. occidentalis
makes a decision of where to bite based on the nectar
Table 1. Differences in foraging behaviours and efficiency among three bumblebee species visiting Linaria vulgaris, using legitimate
(L) and robbing (R) strategies. Means and standard errors are shown. Analyses are Kruskal/Wallis H tests. Unsuccessful visits
occurred when bees attempted to open flowers, but could not. Bombus occidentalis and B. californicus visited too rarely to be
included in analyses. Sample sizes in the experimental study are: B. bifarius (L
/5, R/5), B. flavifrons (L/34, R/3) and
B. appositus (L
/22). In the observational study (*), sample sizes are: B. bifarius (L/8, R/22), B. flavifrons (L/9, R/13) and
B. appositus (L
Variable Strategy bifarius flavifrons appositus Hp
Access time (s)* L 2.94 (0.45) 3.01 (0.30) 2.05 (0.25) 8.324 0.015
R 1.76 (0.26) 1.47 (0.35) /1.593 0.451
Access time (s) L 9.07 (2.10) 9.28 (1.11) 4.91 (0.61) 12.31 0.002
R 2.57 (0.26) 4.35 (2.37) /0.125 0.724
Flowers visited L 3.33 (0.49) 6.47 (0.87) 7.81 (1.03) 4.716 0.095
R 3.50 (0.65) 7.00 (4.51) /0/
Unsuccessful visits L 1.33 (0.62) 0.73 (0.19) 0.10 (0.07) 9.653 0.080
R 0.50 (0.29) 0 (0) /1.800 0.180
Nectar removal (0.1 mm) L 0.43 (0.04) 32.80 (8.50) 147.34 (28.35) 18.80 B
R 3.08 (2.30) 0.24 (0.12) /1.559 0.212
Foraging efficiency** L 0.07 (0.04) 3.62 (0.93) 30.49 (4.84) 23.64 B
R 1.06 (0.70) 0.06 (0.04) /1.559 0.212
*Results from bumblebees visiting natural L. vulgaris inflorescences (study 1 /observational). All other results are from the
experimental runs with manipulated inflorescences (study 2-experimental). Sample sizes for this experiment are shown in superscript
after the standard errors.
**Foraging efficiency
/(nectar removal)/(handling time).
314 OIKOS 110:2 (2005)
standing crop. The location of the bite along the spur
was negatively correlated with the original level of nectar
in the spur (r
//0.467, n/98, pB/0.00001); in flowers
with small quantities of nectar, primary robbers bit the
upper part of spurs, far from the standing crop. In
flowers with greater quantities of nectar, robbers bit
holes lower on the spurs, within reach of the standing
crop. This result corroborates our observations that
robbers drink from the accumulated nectar when stand-
ing crop is high, but directly from the nectaries at the
base of the ovaries when it is low. Robbers rarely made
holes lower than halfway down the spur; only 12.6% of
holes were below the middle of the spur, despite the
presence of collected nectar in the tip. There was no
apparent sidedness to the location of holes; most were
either double slits (one on the right and one of the left
sides of the spur) or single holes in the centre of the spur.
Study 4. Inflorescence partitioning among
bumblebee species, and its effects on nectar
Bumblebee visitation patterns on inflorescences: location
of flower visits on inflorescences
Bumblebee species visited L. vulgaris inflorescences
differently (Fig. 4). Smaller species (B. bifarius and
B. flavifrons), those most likely to be secondary
robbers, visited primarily the bottom half of inflores-
cences, while the opposite was true for the larger, long-
tongued, and exclusively legitimate, species (B. appositus
and B. californicus). Long-tongued bees were more likely
than short- and intermediate-tongued bees to visit the
top half of the raceme (x
/54.86, df /2, p B/0.000001).
Short- and intermediate-tongued bees did not visit
inflorescences differently (x
/1.587, df /1, p /0.208).
Bombus occidentalis tended to prefer the bottom half
Fig. 3. (a) Bombus bifarius
worker licking the nectary (N)
at the base of a Linaria vulgaris
ovary (O) (flower is shown in
partial cross-section) through a
hole made by B. occidentalis
near the ovary; the nectar
standing crop is in the bottom
of the nectar spur (S) where
secondary robbers cannot reach
it. (b) Bombus flavifrons
probing nectar legitimately
from L. vulgaris. The bee uses
its weight and sometimes, as is
illustrated here, its foreleg to
hold the flower lips open.
Drawings by D. A. Newman
adapted from photographs by
D. A. Newman.
Fig. 4. Proportion of visits by five bumblebee species to the
lower (white bars) and upper (grey bars) flowers on L. vulgaris
inflorescences. Species are arranged from short-tongued on the
left to long-tongued on the right. Some proportions exceed
100% because some individuals visited both lower and upper
halves of the inflorescences.
OIKOS 110:2 (2005) 315
of the inflorescence, although less so than the
smaller species (x
/3.429, df /1, p /0.064), and
most often visited both top and bottom halves. Regard-
less of species, robbing individuals were more likely
to visit the bottom half of inflorescences while the
opposite was the case for legitimate visitors (x
/1, pB/0.000001). Unlike Corbet et al. (1981),
we saw no robbers working upside-down on the inflor-
Bumblebee visitation patterns on inflorescences: effect of
flower congestion
Flower congestion significantly affected inflorescence
use by nectar robbers. Robbers only visited upper flowers
on dense inflorescences in 5.26% of the observations,
compared to 16.27% in intermediate and 25.0% in sparse
inflorescences (x
/6.40, df /2, p /0.041). There was
no such effect for legitimate visitors (x
/0.220, df /2,
Nectar standing crop, nectar accumulation, and flower
location on inflorescences
Empty flowers were frequent and flowers with nectar
occurred along the entire length of the inflorescence.
However, nectar standing crop was significantly higher
in the upper half of the inflorescences, and significantly
more flowers in the lower half were empty (Table 2).
In addition, significantly more flowers in the lower
half of the inflorescences were robbed than in the top
half (Table 2). In contrast, in the 24-hour nectar
accumulation treatment, there were no differences in
either nectar accumulation or in percent empty flowers
between the bottom and top halves of inflorescences.
Not surprisingly, the significant difference in percent
robbed flowers between the lower and upper flowers
remained (Table 2).
Nectar robbing in Linaria vulgaris significantly reduced
nectar standing crop and visitation rates by legitimate
pollinators. These changes might imply that robbing has
negative fitness consequences for the plant (Maloof and
Inouye 2000), but two European (Stout et al. 2000, Nepi
et al. 2002) and one North American (Irwin and Maloof
2002) studies on the effects of nectar robbing on female
fitness on L. vulgaris have found no reductions in seed
set. This ability to tolerate the potentially damaging
effects of nectar robbing may be due to aspects of its
growth form and to primary robber behaviour. In this
study, we found that inflorescence structure and patterns
of flower maturation, as well as the spatial separation of
nectar accumulation from the nectaries, might act as
‘tolerance traits’ that neutralize the impacts of nectar
Robbed flowers had less nectar than unrobbed flowers
under both natural and experimental conditions. This
finding is consistent with Stout et al. (2000) for the same
plant species in England, although the differences they
found were not significant due to high variability in
nectar standing crop. We, like Stout et al. (2000), also
found that robbed flowers were more often empty than
unrobbed flowers. Most flowers in the population were
robbed, but it is conceivable that local patches unaf-
fected by robbers might benefit from higher nectar
standing crops, and increased legitimate visitation,
than those of other plants (Irwin and Brody 1998,
1999, 2000).
Primary robbers might be considered ‘‘resource
engineers’’ that make a food source available or easier
to obtain to other species. As B. occidentalis workers
pierced an increasing number of flowers in the popula-
tion, secondary robbing made up a greater number
and proportion of the total visits to L. vulgaris. Indeed,
even if it is faster and easier than visiting legitimately,
secondary robbing will only be worthwhile if individuals
Table 2. Results from Wilcoxon matched pairs tests comparing the lower and upper halves of Linaria vulgaris inflorescences in
nectar standing crop and nectar accumulation variables. Nectar standing crops were measured immediately after unmanipulated
inflorescences were collected. Nectar accumulation was measured after 24 hour pollinator exclusions. Note that since the standing
crop and accumulation data were collected from different plants, dates, and patches, standing crop and accumulation values should
not be compared quantitatively.
Variable Inflorescence location Mean (SE) Z-value n p-value
Standing crop nectar height (mm) bottom half 0.36 (0.05) 7.62 112 B
top half 0.93 (0.08)
% empty flowers bottom half 67.99 (2.41) 6.72 112 B
top half 45.70 (2.314)
% robbed flowers bottom half 98.32 (0.62) 3.33 112 B
top half 94.42 (1.31)
Accumulation nectar height bottom half 0.576 (0.064) 0.69 31 0.491
top half 0.506 (0.053)
% empty flowers bottom half 59.87 (15.79) 0.26 31 0.795
top half 60.87 (16.82)
% robbed flowers bottom half 100.0 (0.0) 2.95 31 0.003
top half 92.009 (2.218)
316 OIKOS 110:2 (2005)
do not have to waste much time seeking flowers
with holes (Inouye 1983). Secondarily robbing bumble-
bees appear to find holes in nectar spurs while crawling
from flower to flower on racemes; following the
discovery, there is a period during which individuals
alternate between visiting legitimately and illegally
(D. A. Newman, pers. obs.). Provided there are enough
holes in flowers, secondary robbing seems to become a
fixed strategy for most individuals. In a flight cage
experiment, short-tongued B. rufocinctus workers
trained to visit L. vulgaris legitimately quickly (within
one or two foraging trips) switched to secondary
robbing, but then resisted switching back to legitimate
visitation when we removed robbed plants. Instead,
individuals flew around inflorescences for several min-
utes, presumably to look for holes, before returning
to the colony, and only switched back to legitimate
visitation after more than 24 hours (D. A. Newman,
pers. obs.). Not far from the RMBL, B. bifarius and
B. flavifrons workers only began to secondarily rob
Penstemon strictus when the frequency of robbed flowers
approached 100% (K. Ohashi, pers. comm.).
Bumblebee species used L. vulgaris inflorescences
differently. Secondary robbers preferentially used the
lower half of inflorescences while legitimate visitors
used the top half. This is likely due to the increased
probability that older flowers, which are located lower on
the inflorescences, will have been pierced by B. occiden-
talis (Corbet et al. 1981), and perhaps because lower
flowers (whose spurs are exposed) are easier to rob when
inflorescences are congested. While almost all of the
flowers in the population we studied were robbed,
flowers in the top half of inflorescences were more likely
to be unrobbed, and had more nectar than flowers on
the bottom half. Young flowers, whose corollas were not
yet fully developed, had more nectar on average than
mature flowers, although the difference was not signifi-
cant, and were less often robbed than their mature
counterparts (x
/18.331, df /1, p B/0.0001). Bombus
appositus and occasionally B. flavifrons preferred these
younger flowers, spending considerable amounts of time
trying, often unsuccessfully, to open them. The parti-
tioning of flower use among bumblebees using different
foraging strategies may reduce or neutralize potential
negative effects of nectar robbing. Linaria vulgaris
flowers begin anthesis before they open (Corbet et al.
1981), and most anthers in the open flowers we observed
were already empty (D. A. Newman, pers. obs.). There-
fore, if legitimate pollinators are visiting mostly young
flowers on the upper end of inflorescences, they are likely
importing enough outcross pollen to guarantee full seed
set, and exporting all of the pollen produced by
individual flowers, even before primary robbers have
attacked all of the flowers on the plant, or before
secondary robbers have the time to deplete nectar
rewards. Although not a defensive trait, the L. vulgaris
inflorescence arrangement, in combination with its
patterns of flower development and anthesis, might act
as a tolerance mechanism that reduces or eliminates any
detrimental effect of nectar robbers. Linaria vulgaris
appears to keep its older (lower) flowers long after they
are useful for reproduction. It is likely that such a
pattern of flower longevity might benefit the plant by
increasing attractiveness to pollinators, as Ishii and
Sakai (2001) showed in Narthecium asiaticum. This
characteristic has the additional benefit of keeping
most robbing visits away from the younger flowers.
Our observations of wild bees also suggested that the
degree of flower congestion along an inflorescence
/SD in this population/3.009/0.869 flowers
per cm; range
/1.05 to 5.94) might also reduce the
impact of secondary robbing by making the spurs
difficult to reach; although the robust B. occidentalis
can pry flowers apart to bite the spurs, the smaller
B. bifarius and B. flavifrons appeared to put consider-
able effort into reaching them, and often left inflores-
cences after several unsuccessful attempts. The
disproportionate preference by secondary robbers for
lower flowers in dense inflorescences supports this
observation. Although the notion that congested inflor-
escences might act as protection from nectar robbers is
not new (Fogg 1950, Inouye 1983), these are to our
knowledge the first reported observations and results
supporting the possibility that such protection might
occur in the field. Variation in flower congestion among
plants within and among patches may make some plants
less vulnerable to primary or secondary robbing.
Due to the location of the holes in most spurs (Fig. 3),
most short-tongued bees (B. bifarius,B. occidentalis and
even B. flavifrons) did not reach the nectar standing crop
even when they robbed; instead, they usually probed
upwards along the back of the nectar duct to the
nectaries. The location of holes far from the site of
nectar collection allowed any accumulation (i.e. in the
morning, or after a day with low bumblebee activity) to
be effectively ‘‘reserved’’ for legitimate long-tongued
visitors. When visitation was low or artificially pre-
vented, and nectar was allowed to accumulate, primary
robbers made their holes lower on the spurs, and were
able to drain flowers completely. Bombus occidentalis
workers probably find it difficult to bite holes near the
tapered ends of nectar spurs. Therefore, it appears that
the abundance of legitimate visitors can influence the
robbers’ choice of where to make holes in the flower. If
legitimate visitors are common, and are able to keep
nectar standing crops low, robbers appear to prefer
making holes closer to the nectaries; therefore any
residual nectar accumulation is protected from second-
ary robbers and more legitimate visits are likely. As
mentioned above, reductions in nectar standing crop due
to robbing are expected to affect plants negatively
(Maloof and Inouye 2000). However, we found that as
OIKOS 110:2 (2005) 317
long as nectar standing crop was low, B. occidentalis
made holes closer to the nectaries, and therefore left
nectar in the spur where only long-tongued pollinators
could reach it. This behaviour by hole-biting bees, in
plants with separate nectar production and nectar
storage sites, may reduce the likelihood that a flower
will be completely empty unless it has just been visited by
a legitimate visitor; it is likely that long-tongued bees will
continue to visit flowers that contain some nectar.
Although primary and secondary robbers might severely
or completely stem the flow of nectar into L. vulgaris
spurs on a daily basis, resulting in a higher percentage of
empty flowers following nectar depletion by a long-
tongued visitor, continuous nectar production would
replenish a standing crop in each flower overnight,
thereby increasing its odds of successful pollen deposi-
tion and removal.
Bumblebee species varied in foraging efficiency on
L. vulgaris flowers. The larger long-tongued species
could open flowers more rapidly, and removed a much
greater volume of nectar than their shorter-tongued
counterparts. Shorter-tongued bees removed only trace
amounts of nectar by visiting flowers legitimately, and
often could not reach the standing crop. Pollinating
bumblebee species also differed in their preference for
secondary robbing; shorter-tongued species, less efficient
legitimate visitors than longer-tongued species, were
more likely to exploit the holes made by B. occidentalis.
Bees with longer tongues can reach more of the available
nectar, so that their absolute reward is greater; in
addition, manoeuvring a long proboscis into a small
hole may make secondary robbing difficult or impossible
for long-tongued species (Ranta and Lundberg 1980,
Plowright and Plowright 1997). Furthermore, since
longer-tongued bees are also generally larger (Heinrich
1976, Harder 1983), obtaining nectar legitimately is
easier for these species, probably because their weight
aids in opening the flower. A plausible consequence of
this advantage is a more stereotypical visitation techni-
que relative to smaller species, which could result in
more precise pollen transfer from anthers to the stigmas
of other flowers.
Nectar robbers may radically alter the relationship
between L. vulgaris and its visitors because they provide
a new route to the nectar. Shorter-tongued bees will thus
find their access to the nectar made easier. Short-
tongued bees most likely benefit, since nectar is easier
to obtain in the presence of holes. Long-tongued bees
probably suffer from increased competition with a larger
community of nectar foragers due to robbing (Mainero
and del Rio 1985, Irwin and Brody 1998). In the
presence of holes, it is in the best interest of short-
tongued bumblebees to switch to secondary robbing,
provided the frequency of holes is high enough to make
the strategy sustainable. The reason that some B. bifarius
visited L. vulgaris legitimately despite the presence of
holes is most likely that they were collecting pollen
(Macior 1967), either exclusively or in addition to nectar.
Bombus flavifrons observed preference for secondary
robbing is puzzling in light of our foraging efficiency
measurements (Table 1). However, despite the apparent
trade off between handling time and reward that
bumblebees, especially B. flavifrons, face when they
secondarily rob instead of visiting legitimately, cheating
probably has other benefits that we did not measure. An
unmeasured energetic cost incurred by B. flavifrons
visiting L. vulgaris legitimately probably accounts
for the species’ preference for secondary robbing.
Indeed, it is commonly assumed that bees expend
much less energy by robbing than by opening closed
flowers (Macior 1966, Inouye 1983), and this seems
apparent based on our observations of smaller bees
struggling to enter L. vulgaris flowers.
The nectar robbing literature concentrates on the
effects of nectar-parasitism on plant fitness. However,
results have proved so variable among systems that
conclusions about the phenomenon elude generalization.
In L. vulgaris, nectar robbing is apparently not detri-
mental (Stout et al. 2000, Irwin and Maloof 2002, Nepi
et al. 2002), despite reductions in nectar standing crop
and in legitimate pollinator visitation. Most of the
reduction in legitimate visitation in this study appeared
to result from pollinators switching to secondary rob-
bing. In a year or area with a small long-tongued
bumblebee population, it is likely that nectar robbing
would have more severe effects, since most pollinators
visiting L. vulgaris would be short-tongued and therefore
prone to switch to robbing.
Our findings point towards some of the plant
traits that may mitigate the effects of nectar robbing.
Plants with racemose inflorescences whose flowers
mature along the vertical axis, and whose female and
male functions are easily fulfilled (L. vulgaris has sticky
pollen that is very effectively picked up in large
quantities by bumblebees), may not suffer from the
pollen limitation associated with nectar robbing, as do
some other species (e.g. Ipomopsis aggregata; Irwin and
Brody 1998, 1999, 2000). Spatial separation of nectaries
from the site of nectar accumulation, found in several
plant families (e.g. Scrophulariaceae, Violaceae, Solana-
ceae, Alliaceae, among others; Vogel 1998), might also
help plants tolerate nectar robbing if it prevents robbers
from completely draining the flowers they attack.
Although it may be impossible to find generalizations
about the impacts of nectar robbers on plants, identify-
ing traits such as these may help determine in what plant
species to expect negative or neutral effects of nectar
Acknowledgements /The authors thank M. Danielczyk
and R. J. Smith for equipment, D. C. Darling, K. Ohashi,
F. H. Rodd and J. S. Thaler for useful discussion. We
are indebted to the Rocky Mountain Biological Labora-
tory for use of its hymenopteran collection. Funding was
318 OIKOS 110:2 (2005)
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Subject Editor : Esa Ranta
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... Navarro, 1999;Pyke, 1982;Varma & Sinu, 2019). Primary robbing constitutes ENC (Newman & Thomson, 2005) for several reasons. First, primary robbing can increase the robber's foraging returns compared to probing legitimately (Lichtenberg et al., 2018;Pyke, 1982). ...
... First, although primary robbing was observed rarely, most primary robbers were terr and the observations of two dahl biting flowers occurred late during the study. Second, terr switched to robbing first and was responsible for almost all robbing visits observed as the proportion of robbed flowers peaked during the following two weeks (Figure 2d The observed dynamics of terr and dahl abundance and behaviour demonstrate that nectar robbing constitutes ENC (see Kylafis & Loreau, 2011;Newman & Thomson, 2005). As summarised in Figure 1, the environmental modification (nectar-access holes in Fuchsia flowers) created by the biting constructor species, terr, persisted and increased its resource availability and competitiveness, motivating behavioural responses by the bystander species, dahl. ...
... Initially (late January), terr used only front visits to access Fuchsia nectar. In doing so, it was probably at a competitive disadvantage to dahl, which has a longer proboscis and so could access more of the nectar column in Fuchsia flowers (see Newman & Thomson, 2005). The resulting limitation of accessible nectar likely prompted some terr individuals to begin robbing, allowing them to ingest more nectar per flower, alleviating their competitive disadvantage (see Dedej & Delaplane, 2005;Lichtenberg et al., 2018;Pyke, 1982). ...
While feeding, foragers can alter their environment. Such alteration constitutes ecological niche construction (ENC) if it enables future benefits for the constructor and conspecific individuals. The environmental modification may also affect non‐constructing, bystander species, especially if they share resources with constructor species. If so, ENC could confer the constructor species a competitive advantage by both enhancing its foraging returns and reducing those of bystander species. Expectations – (E1) ENC frequency should vary positively with the recent and current density of the constructor species, and (E2) constructors should use modifications disproportionately. In contrast, bystanders should (E3) experience intensified competition for the affected resource, and (E4) exhibit diverse, possibly mitigating, responses to ENC, depending on opportunity and relative benefits. We investigated these expectations in Argentina for competition for Fuchsia magellanica nectar between an invasive bumble bee, Bombus terrestris (terr: putative constructor), that often bites holes at the bases of floral tubes to rob nectar, and native B. dahlbomii (dahl: bystander), which normally accesses Fuchsia nectar through the flower mouth (front visits). Robbing holes constitute ENC, as they persist until the 7‐day flowers wilt. The dynamics of the incidence of robbed flowers, abundance of both bees, and the number and types of their flower visits (front or robbing) were characterised by alternate‐day surveys of plants during 2.5 months. After initially accessing Fuchsia nectar via front visits, terr switched to robbing and its abundance on Fuchsia increased 20‐fold within 10 days (E2). Correspondingly, the incidence of robbed flowers varied positively with recent and past terr abundance (E1). In contrast, dahl abundance remained low and varied negatively with the incidence of robbed flowers (E3). When terr ceased visiting Fuchsia, dahl abundance increased six‐fold within 10 days (E3), possibly because many dahl previously had avoided competition with terr by feeding on other plant species (E4). While terr was present, dahl on Fuchsia used front visits (tolerance) or used existing robbing holes (adoption: E4). The diverse dahl responses suggest partial compensation for competition with terr. ENC alters competitive asymmetry, favouring constructor species. However, bystander responses can partially offset this advantage, perhaps facilitating coexistence.
... Although B. terrestris is an important nectar robber of other hummingbird plant species in the study area like Fuchsia magellanica (Rosenberg 2018), being a smaller species it may not be as efficient at piercing the thick corollas of C. valdivianum as B. dahlbomii, one of the largest bumblebees in the world. Differences in body size could explain the lower primary nectar robbing levels we recorded (see also Newman and Thomson 2005). Despite being a poor primary robber of C. valdivianum, B. terrestris could be engaged into active secondary robbing (i.e., collecting nectar from existing holes; Stout et al. 2000), which was not assessed in this study. ...
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Nectar robbers are common cheaters of plant-pollinator mutualisms by making holes in flower tissues to attain floral rewards often without providing pollination service. Most studies have focused on the consequences of nectar robbing on plant reproduction, whereas the underlying drivers of spatiotemporal variation in nectar robbing have been comparatively less explored. We assessed variation in nectar robbing of Campsidium valdivianum, an endemic hummingbird-pollinated climber species from the temperate forests of Southern South America, which currently is subjected to nectar robbing by the alien short-tongued Bombus terrestris, and determined if this variation is related to characteristics of the floral neighborhood. We located plants of C. valdivianum and estimated the proportion of flowers with holes. We recorded the presence, identity and distance to the nearest bumblebee-pollinated plants with open flowers. Results showed that the proportion of robbed flowers in C. valdivianum increased almost seven times in the presence of bumblebee flowering plants in the neighborhood. No evidence was found that the proportion of robbed flowers differs between neighborhoods with Berberis darwinii only vs. B. darwinii and Cytisus scoparius, the co-flowering plant species typically visited by bumblebees during the study. Finally, the proportion of robbed flowers increased not only with the presence but also with the proximity of these bumblebee-pollinated plants. Our results suggest that floral neighborhoods attractive to bumblebees can operate as magnets, potentially increasing the intensity of nectar robbing on nearby hummingbird-pollinated species. This study provides novel insights into understanding spatio-temporal variation in nectar robbing.
... Despite a slow rate of nectar replenishment (≈24 h), the nectar pool is maintained by the presence of numerous flowers (≈40) in a raceme that opened at regular intervals (3 or 4 flowers each day). Thus, although the plant may expend more energy in nectar renewal, the cost seems to be balanced out by continuous engagement of pollinators through prolonged flowering (Newman and Thomson, 2005). However, the cost of damage appeared to be irreversible once the florivore excised the nectary through florivory. ...
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Consumption of pollination reward by felonious means in a plant species can influence the foraging behavior of its pollinator and eventually the reproductive success. So far, studies on this aspect are largely confined to interaction involving plant-pollinators and nectar robbers or thieves. However, a foraging guild in such interactions may also include floral herbivores or florivores. There is a paucity of information on the extent to which nectar larcenists may influence the foraging behavior of the pollinator and reproductive fitness of plants in the presence of a florivore. We investigated various forms of larceny in the natural populations of Aerides odorata, a pollinator-dependent and nectar-rewarding orchid. These populations differed in types of foraging guild, the extent of larceny (thieving/robbing), which can occur with or without florivory, and natural fruit-set pattern. The nectariferous spur of the flower serves as an organ of interest among the foraging insects. While florivory marked by excision of nectary dissuades the pollinator, nectar thieving and robbing significantly enhance visits of the pollinator and fruit-set. Experimental pollinations showed that the species is a preferential outbreeder and experiences inbreeding depression from selfing. Reproductive fitness of the orchid species varies significantly with the extent of floral larceny. Although nectar thieving or robbing is beneficial in this self-compatible species, the negative effects of florivory were stronger. Our findings suggest that net reproductive fitness in the affected plant species is determined by the overarching effect of its breeding system on the overall interacting framework of the foraging guild.
... In recent years, it has been suggested that species' characteristics and energy incomes of flower visitors are important for nectar robbing. Several previous studies have reported that morphological matching between flowers and their visitors affects the frequency of nectar robbing (e.g., corolla length and proboscis length) (Irwin and Brody 1998;Newman and Thomson 2005;Goulson et al. 2013). Dedej and Delaplane (2005) suggest that nectar robbing requires less handling effort and may provide greater rewards than does legitimate visiting. ...
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Not all flower-visiting animals act as pollinators; some visitors engage in foraging nectar without pollen transfer. The tendency to rob nectar is related to visitors’ morphological traits and rewards per foraging effort, and drivers of this variation within visitor species are largely unknown. Because foraging behavior is affected by foraging experience, we focused on the relationship between the tendency to rob nectar and the foraging experience of each forager. We investigated five consecutive visits of European honeybee, Apis mellifera L., on comfrey, Symphytum officinale L., in Japan. We estimated the foraging experience of A. mellifera using wing wear, categorized into six groups. Approximately 60% and 40% of A. mellifera foragers engaged in legitimate visits and nectar robbing, respectively. Moreover, most A. mellifera engaged in only one foraging tactic. The proportion of nectar robbing was related to wing wear and was higher in individuals with extensively damaged wings than those with less damaged wings. The present study suggests that extensively experienced honeybee foragers tend towards nectar robbing.
... These physiological and perception factors would affect nectar-robbing decisions if robbing and legitimate visitation do not reliably provide nectar rewards of the same volume or concentration. For example, robbed flowers often have lower nectar volumes and/or higher nectar concentrations than unrobbed flowers (Pleasants, 1983;Newman et al., 2005). When this is the case, a forager might encounter different rewards when secondary robbing vs. when foraging legitimately on a previously unrobbed flower. ...
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Animals foraging from flowers must assess their environment and make critical decisions about which patches, plants, and flowers to exploit to obtain limiting resources. The cognitive ecology of plant-pollinator interactions explores not only the complex nature of pollinator foraging behavior and decision making, but also how cognition shapes pollination and plant fitness. Floral visitors sometimes depart from what we think of as typical pollinator behavior and instead exploit floral resources by robbing nectar (bypassing the floral opening and instead consuming nectar through holes or perforations made in floral tissue). The impacts of nectar robbing on plant fitness are well-studied; however, there is considerably less understanding, from the animal’s perspective, about the cognitive processes underlying nectar robbing. Examining nectar robbing from the standpoint of animal cognition is important for understanding the evolution of this behavior and its ecological and evolutionary consequences. In this review, we draw on central concepts of foraging ecology and animal cognition to consider nectar robbing behavior either when individuals use robbing as their only foraging strategy or when they switch between robbing and legitimate foraging. We discuss sensory and cognitive biases, learning, and the role of a variable environment in making decisions about robbing vs. foraging legitimately. We also discuss ways in which an understanding of the cognitive processes involved in nectar robbing can address questions about how plant-robber interactions affect patterns of natural selection and floral evolution. We conclude by highlighting future research directions on the sensory and cognitive ecology of nectar robbing.
... Nectar robbing has an obvious negative connotation with adverse effects on the fitness of plants [18]. For instance, nectar robbers negatively affect plant fitness by decreasing the visitation rate of the legitimate pollinators [19,20], destroying floral structures [21,22] or reducing the availability of nectar volume [19]. This has been deemed to reduce the attractiveness to pollinators and hence influences the plant's reproductive success [23,24]. ...
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Nectar robbers, which affect plant fitness (directly or indirectly) in different degrees and in different ways, potentially constitute a significant part of mutualistic relationships. While the negative effects of nectar robbing on plant reproductive success have been widely reported, the positive effects remain unknown. The target of our study was to evaluate the effects of nectar robbers on the reproductive success of Symphytum officinale (Boraginaceae). We observed the behavior, species and times of visitors in the field, and we assessed the effect of nectar robbers on corolla abscission rate and time. To test the fitness of corolla abscission, we detected the changes in stigma receptivity, pollen viability, pollen amount and appendage opening size along with the time of flower blossom. The flowering dynamics and floral structure were observed to reveal the mechanism of self-pollination. Finally, pollen deposition seed set rate and fruit set rate were determined to estimate the effect of nectar robbers on reproduction success. We observed 14 species of visitors and 2539 visits in 50 h of observation; 91.7% of them were nectar robbers. The pressure and nectar removal of nectar robbers significantly promoted corolla abscission during a period when pollen grains are viable and the stigma is receptive. In addition, corolla abscission significantly increased the pollen deposition and seed setting rate. Our results demonstrate that nectar robbing contributes to enhancing seed production and positively and indirectly impacts the reproductive success of S. officinale. This mechanism involved the movement of anthers and indirect participation by nectar robbers, which was rarely investigated. Considering the multiple consequences of nectar robbing, understanding the impact of nectar robbers on plant reproduction is essential to comprehend the evolutionary importance of relationships between plants and their visitors.
... Particularly in greenhouses, crop pollination by managed bees is the most common method. However, different bee species have various morphological characteristics and flower-visiting behaviors (Krenn et al., 2005;Thorp, 1979), and they exhibit different levels of pollination efficiency (Newman et al., 2005), leading to different effects by various pollinators on the reproductive efficiency of plants (Hoehn et al., 2008;Klein et al., 2003). Therefore, the selection of appropriate bee species to pollinate certain crops is of great significance in agricultural production. ...
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Different pollinators exhibit different adaptability to plants. Here, we compared the performance in visiting frequency and pollination efficiency among three bee pollinators ( Bombus terrestris , Apis cerana , and Apis mellifera ) on greenhouse-grown northern highbush ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry plants and evaluate their effects on yield and fruit quality. Our results indicated that the duration of daily flower-visiting of B. terrestris was 24 and 64 minutes longer than that of A. cerana and A. mellifera , respectively, and the visiting time of a single flower for B. terrestris was substantially shorter than the other two bee species, and pollen deposition on the stigma from single visit by B. terrestris was twice and three times that of A. cerana and A. mellifera , respectively. The yield of individual plants pollinated by B. terrestris showed an increase of 11.4% and 20.0% compared with the plants pollinated by A. cerana and A. mellifera , respectively, with the rate of Grade I fruit (>18 mm diameter) reaching 50.8%, compared with 32.9% and 22.5% for A. cerana and A. mellifera groups, respectively. Moreover, the early-to-midseason yield of plants pollinated by B. terrestris was higher, and the ripening time was 3 to 4 days earlier. An artificial pollination experiment demonstrated that seed set of high (≈300), medium (90–110), and low (20–30) pollination amounts were 43.0%, 42.5%, and 10.5%, respectively, and the corresponding mean weights of single fruits (related to the seed number inside) were 2.8, 2.7, and 1.2 g, respectively. The highly efficient pollination of B. terrestris was attributed to its behavior of buzz-pollination. Therefore, it is preferential for pollination of ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry in the greenhouse.
... Because pollinators have specific nutritional preferences and requirements, they have evolved the ability to learn to recognize the flowers providing them with the maximum reward based on diverse flower cues (Whitney and Glover, 2007;Fornoff et al., 2017). These clues include flower size (Grossenbacher and Whittall, 2011), shape (Newman and Thomson, 2005), colour (Hirota et al., 2013;Grossenbacher and Stanton, 2014), and fragrance (Byers et al., 2014). Flower scent, in particular, has been shown to evolve rapidly and to play an essential role in limiting interspecific hybridization in sympatry (Raguso, 2008;Friberg et al., 2014;Whitehead and Peakall, 2014;Gross et al., 2016;Gervasi and Schiestl, 2017; Table 1). ...
The success of species depends on their ability to exploit ecological resources in order to optimize their reproduction. However, species are not usually found within single-species ecosystems but in complex communities. Because of their genetic relatedness, closely related lineages tend to cluster within the same ecosystem, rely on the same resources and be phenotypically similar. In sympatry, they will, therefore, compete for the same resources and in the case of flowering plants, exchange their genes through heterospecific pollen transfer. These interactions, nevertheless, pose significant challenges to species coexistence because they can lead to resource limitation and reproductive interference. In such cases, divergent selective pressures on floral traits will favour genotypes that isolate or desynchronise the reproduction of sympatric lineages. The resulting displacement of reproductive characters will, in turn, lead to premating isolation and promote intraspecific divergence, thus initiating or reinforcing the speciation process. In this review, we discuss the current theoretical and empirical knowledge on the influence of heterospecific pollen transfer on flower evolution, highlighting its potential to uncover the ecological and genomic constraints shaping the speciation process.
... Also, nectar robbing has been mainly studied from the plant's per-spective and rarely from the animal's perspectives, so we know little about the mechanisms that determine whether individuals rob or not (Irwin et al. 2010). Previous studies report the importance of the energetic costs and benefits of each behavior (Dedej and Delaplane 2005) and morphological matching between flowers and their visitors (Newman and Thomson 2005) for nectar robbing. These findings likely help explain the variation in nectar robbing among species, but little is known about the variation in nectar robbing within species. ...
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Some flower visitors forage nectar via a small hole bitten in corolla without pollen transfer, and one such behavior is called "nectar robbing". The tendency to rob nectar varies both among and within species. To understanding drivers of the variation in tendency to rob nectar both among and within species, I investigated that frequency of nectar robbing on comfrey for each species as a first step. Honeybee played as both legitimate visitor and nectar robber, and their nectar robbing frequency was higher in a site which density of flowers with a small hole was higher. Two bumblebee species played as nectar robbing only, while other two bumblebee species made legitimate visitation. This variation within same genera would be caused by the variation in body size, such as tongue length and body width. Ant and hoverfly also have short tongue (or mouth part); however, ant robbed nectar and hoverfly visited legitimately. This might be because the difference of foraged floral resources; ant foraged nectar and hoverfly foraged pollen. Therefore, I suggest that the tendency to rob nectar varies among and within species depending on patch status, morphological trait, and required floral resources.
Individuals sometimes exhibit striking constancy to a single behaviour even when they are capable of short-term behavioural flexibility. Constancy enables animals to avoid costs such as memory constraints, but can also inflict significant opportunity costs through behaviour–environment mismatch. It is unclear when individuals should exhibit behavioural constancy and which types of costs most strongly influence such behaviour. We use a case in which individuals within a population exhibit more than one handling tactic for a single food type to investigate whether costs associated with switching among tactics constrain expression of intra-individual variation. Using wild bumble bees (Bombus spp.) that feed on nectar through flower openings (legitimate visits) or through holes at the base of flowers (robbing), we asked three questions. (1) Do individual bees exhibit tactic constancy within and across foraging bouts? (2) Are individuals willing to switch their food-handling tactics? (3) Is constancy in food-handling tactics maintained by costs associated with switching tactics? We measured energetic costs in addition to handling times. We found that bees freely foraging in meadows were highly constant to a single food-handling tactic both within and across bouts. However, experiments with individual captive bees showed that these bees were willing to switch tactics and experienced minimal costs in doing so. Thus, switching costs do not drive the observed constancy in food-handling tactics of bumble bees within and across foraging bouts.
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We studied nectar characteristics during the long flowering period (late June to end of November) in two populations of Linaria vulgaris (L.) Mill. spontaneously growing in the Botanical Gardens of Siena University (Tuscany, central Italy). The two populations were close to each other but they differed in blooming period. Plants of population 1 sprouted in May and flowered from the end of June to the end of September. Population 2 sprouted at the end of August and flowered from September to the end of November. Differences in nectar production and composition were found between and within populations. Flowers of population 1 produced a very small amount of nectar (not collectable) that remained on the nectary surface. The quantity of nectar increased in late September, when each flower produced 2–3 μl of nectar that flowed into the spur. Total sugar concentration was 175.8 mg/ml in young flowers. Flowers of population 2 produced 5–8 μl of nectar with a total sugar concentration of 200.9 mg/ml in the young stage. In bagged senescent flowers nectar volume decreased in both populations and nectar sugar concentration decreased down to 11.6 mg/ml in population 2 and increased up to 289.6 mg/ml in population 1. For both populations, the decrease in nectar volume in bagged flowers may have been due to water loss by evaporation. In population 2, the decrease in sugar concentration may have been due to nectar reabsorption that was never observed in population 1. Nectar variability is discussed in relation to insect visits and seed set.
Observations on native and cultivated plants indicated that the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris L.) and at least four species of Bombus are probably effective pollinators of Aquilegia canadensis L. in southeastern Wisconsin. Bombus affinis Cresson perforated more than 90% of 2173 nectar spurs of flowers at full anthesis on wild plants. Cinematographic and stereo-photographic records of insects revealed a general behavioral pattern of mandibular perforation following exploration by antennae, maxillae, and tongue. Pollen-foraging behavior on 19 cultivated Aquilegia species and varieties was uniform, but nectar-foraging behavior varied with flower form and position and not with color variation within one flower form. Observations on marked insects showed that workers tended to forage in one manner on one plant variety, while queens foraging in one or more ways visited up to five different flower forms on one flight. Initial observations on neonate workers from a cultivated B. affinis colony suggested that a probably innate mandibular perforation behavior is not instinctively directed toward nectar-bearing floral parts, and that foraging behavior is capable of rapid establishment and considerable versatility.
Cinematographic records of the pollen-foraging behavior of six Bombus species on Linaria vulgaris, Lobelia siphilitica, and Antirrhinum majus revealed a generally uniform pattern of pollen deposition by the nototribic flowers on the frons and scutum of the foragers. A forward sweeping motion of the tarsal brushes of their middle legs removed some of this pollen which was transferred to the tibial corbicula of the hind legs. Some insects foraged in an inverted position. An analysis of 804 pollen samples from frons, scutum, and corbiculum of 331 from a total of 395 Bombus visitors, representing eight of the nine native species, on the three plants indicated a high proportion of proper pollen being collected in addition to 15 kinds of foreign pollen. The pollen-sweeping behavior of Bombus on nototribic flowers is suggested as an important means of pollen-foraging apart from its utility in insect grooming. Pollen-foraging insects are considered important pollinators of these nototribic flowers.
The present, third part of a series of studies on floral and extrafloral nectaries deals with auxiliary structures whose function is to conduct nectar from its source towards a more or less distant site of exposition. Ducts occur especially in plant groups that have a fixed conformation of floral organs and have been unable to dislocate the nectary towards a site more appropriate for pollination, such as spurs and narrow tubular containers. These drainage systems are concealed, preventing access to visitors. In all known cases, they run externally in capillary clefts between floral organs or in tubes 20–70 μm in diam., formed by invaginations of the cutinized but easily wettable epidermal surface with ± tightly connivent margins. The nectar flows along the ducts driven by capillary forces, secretion pressure and, in part, gravity.
An investigation of the occurrence and behaviour of honeybees and bumble bees in field beans in 1969 and 1970 showed that the number and percentage of bees entering the mouths of the flowers (positive visits) was greatest in the afternoons. Early in the flowering period the majority of honeybees collected pollen, whereas later in the season they chiefly collected nectar from the extrafloral nectaries or from holes bitten in the calyx and corolla tube by B. terrestris (negative visits). Bumble bees worked more rapidly than honeybees when making positive flower visits, but were considerably less numerous than honeybees. The pollination value of different types of bee visit is discussed.
In the present, first part of a series of studies on floral and extrafloral nectaries (N, Ns) that deserve interest from the structural, taxonomic, evolutionary and ecological points of view, the nuptial Ns found in members of five families are examined. They are considered to be substitutive, having evolved secondarily in subgroups that have lost another, non-homologous type of N common in their intrafamilial affinity, or that occur within an alliance that lacks floral Ns, but is presumably derived from an ancestry bearing a non-homologous type of N.
The resource utilization by nine species of bumblebees in a subarctic community was studied by analysing the distribution of the depths of the corolla tubes of the visited flower species. When measured in this way, the food niches of the bumblebee species showed a wide overlap. Species with a long proboscis could use flowers with short corolla tubes for feeding, whereas the reverse was rare. We postulate that foraging efficiency is maximal when the proboscis length of a species corresponds to the corolla tube depth of the flower visited. An analysis of published data supports this hypothesis. The paucity of plant species with deep corolla tubes thus explains the small number and low abundance of bumblebee species with long proboscis. The continuously changing pattern of corolla tube depths due to the seasonal succession of plant species facilitates the coexistence of many bumblebee species in a community in spite of small differences in proboscis length. /// Исследовали утилизацию пищевых ресурсов 9-ю видами шмелей в субарктическом сообществе методом анализа глубины трубочек венчиков посещаемых цветов. При таких определениях пищевые ниши разных видов шмелей широко перекрываются. Виды с длинным хоботком могут использовать для питания цветы с короткой трубочкой венчика, обратное соотношение наблюдалось редко. Мы полагаем, что эффективность фуражировки максимальна, если длина хоботка соответсвует длине трубочки венчика посещаемого цветка. Анализ опубликованных данных подтверждает эту гипотезу. Малое количество видов растений с длинными трубочками венчика цветка обьясняет таким образом, и малое число вкдов и низкую уисленность шмелей с длинными хоботком. Посторнные колебания длины трубочек венчиков цветков в результате сезонной сукцессии видов растений облегчает сосуществование многих видов шмелей в чообществе, несмотря на незначительные различия в длине хоботка.