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Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior between Australian Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bees) and North American Bombus impatiens (bumblebees)


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Many bees collect pollen by grasping the anthers of a flower and vibrating their flight muscles at high frequencies—a behavior termed sonication, or buzz-pollination. Here we compare buzz-pollination on Solanum lycopersicum (cherry tomatoes) by two bees that fill similar niches on different continents—in Australia, Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bee), and in North America, Bombus impatiens (bumblebee). We collected audio recordings of buzz-pollination and quantified the frequency and length of buzzes, as well as the total time spent per flower. We found that A. murrayensis buzzes at significantly higher frequencies (~350 Hz) than B. impatiens (~240 Hz) and flaps its wings at higher frequencies during flight. There was no difference in the length of a single buzz, but A. murrayensis spent less time on each flower, as B. impatiens buzzed the flower several times before departing, whereas A. murrayensis typically buzzed the flower only once. High-speed videos of A. murrayensis during buzz-pollination revealed that its physical interaction with the flower differs markedly from the mechanism described for Bombus and other bees previously examined. Rather than grasping the anther cone with its mandibles and shaking, A. murrayensis taps the anther cone with its head at the high buzzing frequencies generated by its flight muscles. This unique behavior, combined with its higher buzzing frequency and reduced flower visit duration, suggests that A. murrayensis may be able to extract pollen more quickly than B. impatiens, and points to the need for further studies directly comparing the pollination effectiveness of these species.
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Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior
between Australian Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bees)
and North American Bombus impatiens (bumblebees)
Callin M. Switzer
Katja Hogendoorn
Sridhar Ravi
Stacey A. Combes
Received: 2 November 2015 / Accepted: 20 November 2015 / Published online: 1 December 2015
Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract Many bees collect pollen by grasping the
anthers of a flower and vibrating their flight muscles at high
frequencies—a behavior termed sonication, or buzz-polli-
nation. Here we compare buzz-pollination on Solanum
lycopersicum (cherry tomatoes) by two bees that fill similar
niches on different continents—in Australia, Amegilla
murrayensis (blue-banded bee), and in North America,
Bombus impatiens (bumblebee). We collected audio
recordings of buzz-pollination and quantified the frequency
and length of buzzes, as well as the total time spent per
flower. We found that A. murrayensis buzzes at signifi-
cantly higher frequencies (*350 Hz) than B. impatiens
(*240 Hz) and flaps its wings at higher frequencies during
flight. There was no difference in the length of a single
buzz, but A. murrayensis spent less time on each flower, as
B. impatiens buzzed the flower several times before
departing, whereas A. murrayensis typically buzzed the
flower only once. High-speed videos of A. murrayensis
during buzz-pollination revealed that its physical interac-
tion with the flower differs markedly from the mechanism
described for Bombus and other bees previously examined.
Rather than grasping the anther cone with its mandibles
and shaking, A. murrayensis taps the anther cone with its
head at the high buzzing frequencies generated by its flight
muscles. This unique behavior, combined with its higher
buzzing frequency and reduced flower visit duration, sug-
gests that A. murrayensis may be able to extract pollen
more quickly than B. impatiens, and points to the need for
further studies directly comparing the pollination effec-
tiveness of these species.
Keywords Sonication Solanum Vibration
Pollination Native bees
Over 200,000 plant species depend on insects for pollina-
tion (Buchmann 1983). Pollinating insects often consume
both nectar and pollen, and they transfer pollen grains
among plants as they travel from flower to flower, an
essential step in the reproduction of many plants. Under-
standing the physical interactions between plants and insect
pollinators (primarily bees) can provide insight into the
requirements and evolution of these critical plant–pollina-
tor relationships.
Although considered a mutualistic relationship, the
interaction between plants and pollinating insects is not
entirely without conflict. The conflict arises because the
ideal behavior of the pollinator is different from the pol-
linator’s perspective versus the plant’s perspective (Gegear
and Laverty 2001). Bees attempt to expend the least pos-
sible energy for the greatest reward; bumblebees forage for
Handling Editor: Heikki Hokkanen.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this
article (doi:10.1007/s11829-015-9407-7) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
&Callin M. Switzer
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology,
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of
Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia
School of Aerospace, Mechanical, and Manufacturing
Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior,
University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, USA
Arthropod-Plant Interactions (2016) 10:1–8
DOI 10.1007/s11829-015-9407-7
pollen in a manner that increases their probability of
maximizing their net energy intake (Zimmerman 1982).
Plants, on the other hand, would benefit most if pollinators
moved sequentially among flower of the same species—a
strategy that an optimally foraging pollinator would rarely
use (Gegear and Laverty 2001). One evolutionary ‘‘strat-
egy’’ for increasing a plant’s reproductive success is to
dispense only a little pollen at a time, ensuring that its
flowers are visited multiple times and that pollinators must
visit multiple flowers to obtain sufficient pollen (Harder
and Thomson 1989). Plants may also benefit from ‘‘messy’’
bees that cannot clean all the pollen off their bodies, since
this excess pollen is not consumed by the pollinator, and is
more likely to be transferred to different flowers that the
bee visits subsequently; outcrossing plants require a polli-
nator that accumulates pollen on its body where it has a
high chance of fertilizing a conspecific plant ovule (Gegear
and Laverty 2001).
These evolutionary strategies are particularly evident in
the approximately 20,000 insect-pollinated plants (*8%
of angiosperms) that have evolved poricidal anthers
(Buchmann 1983)—anthers with only small pores through
which pollen is released. Poricidal anthers restrict direct
access to pollen (De Luca and Vallejo-Marı
´n2013; Harder
and Thomson 1989), helping to limit the amount of pollen
that bees can collect during a visit and depositing pollen in
locations on the bees’ bodies that are poorly groomed.
Throughout areas with temperate climates, Bombus spp.
(bumblebees) play a vital role in pollinating plants with
poricidal anthers, as they are capable of performing soni-
cation, or buzz-pollination, to release pollen that is largely
inaccessible to insects that do not perform this behavior
(e.g., honeybees) (King and Buchmann 2003). In warmer
areas, species belonging to other taxa, e.g., Xylocopa
(Hogendoorn et al. 2000) and Amegilla (Hogendoorn et al.
2006), perform buzz-pollination.
Buzz-pollination has been well described in Bombus
spp.: The bee lands on a flower, curls her abdomen around
the anther tips while grasping the anthers with her mand-
ibles, and then uses her flight muscles to vibrate her body
without flapping the wings (King et al. 2006). These
vibrations are transmitted through the head and body to the
flower, and pollen is released from the pores onto the bee’s
body (De Luca and Vallejo-Marı
´n2013; Harder and Bar-
clay 1994; King and Buchmann 2003). Due to the bee’s
position on the anther during sonication, pollen is deposited
onto her ventral body surface, and although she collects
some of the pollen grains, several locations on the ventral
body surface are poorly groomed (Buchmann 1983;
Michener et al. 1978), which facilitates the transfer of
pollen to other flowers. Both species of bees groom the
pollen from their bodies and place it onto specialized
carrying structures (Michener et al. 1978). Bombus has
basket-like corbiculae, while Amegilla has brush-like sco-
pae for holding pollen on the hind legs (Michener 2000).
Bombus moistens the pollen with nectar before packing it
into the corbicula (Michener 2000; Michener et al. 1978).
Amegilla packs relatively dry pollen among the hairs of the
scopa (Anderson and Symon 1988).
The asynchronous flight muscles that drive the wings
form part of a resonant system, whose vibration frequency
depends on the mass it is driving (i.e., the mass of the
wings) (Josephson et al. 2000). Thus, when the wings are
disengaged during sonication, the vibration frequency of
the flight muscles is higher than the bees’ flapping fre-
quency during flight (King et al. 1996).
Although much of the previous work on buzz-pollina-
tion has focused on Bombus spp. (Asada and Ono 1996;
Buchmann and Hurley 1978; De Luca et al. 2013; Harder
1990; King 1993; King and Buchmann 2003; Morandin
et al. 2001), many other bee genera perform buzz-polli-
nation, including Protandrena: Andrenidae (Cane and
Buchmann 1989), Megachile: Megachilidae (Neff and
Simpson 1988), Augochloropsis: Halictidae (Thorp and
Estes 1975), Xylocopa: Apidae (Hogendoorn et al. 2000;
King and Buchmann 2003), Nomia: Apidae (Anderson and
Symon 1988), and Amegilla: Apidae (Hogendoorn et al.
2006). Information on the mechanics of buzz-pollination in
these genera is far more limited, and comparative studies of
buzz-pollination mechanisms among different groups of
bees are scarce.
Buzz-pollination is known to be critical for many
endangered plants, such as Dianella longifolia in Australia
(listed on the Advisory List of Rare or Threatened Plants in
Victoria in 2014 and the Northern Territory Threatened
Species list), which can reproduce only through buzz-pol-
lination. In addition, the economic value of buzz-pollina-
tion is very high, as it contributes to increased yields in
crops ranging from tomatoes (Asada and Ono 1996;
Hogendoorn et al. 2006) to blueberries (Javorek et al.
2002) and cranberries (MacKenzie 1994).
In mainland Australia, Bombus spp. are not present, and
multiple native bees perform buzz-pollination. The poten-
tial introduction of Bombus spp. to the Australian mainland
for tomato pollination (Hogendoorn et al. 2006) is being
debated intensively, as Bombus spp. have been commer-
cialized in other parts of the world, and their effectiveness
at pollinating crops in greenhouses is well established
(King 1993). Native Australian bees, like Amegilla spp.,
have not been commercialized to the same degree, but
research suggests that they also present a viable method of
pollinating tomatoes in greenhouses (Bell et al. 2006;
Hogendoorn et al. 2006). However, few studies have
compared the mechanisms by which native Australian bees
and Bombus spp. extract pollen via sonication, and buzz-
pollination by Amegilla spp. has not been quantified.
2 C. M. Switzer et al.
Here we compare buzz-pollination on Solanum lycop-
ersicum (cherry tomatoes) by two bees that fill similar
niches on different continents—in Australia, Amegilla
murrayensis (blue-banded bee), and in North America,
Bombus impatiens (common Eastern bumblebee).
To determine whether these species pollinating the same
flower perform buzz-pollination in the same way, we col-
lected audio recordings of buzz-pollination and quantified
the frequency and length of individual buzzes, as well as
the total time spent on a single flower (which may
encompass multiple buzzes). We also recorded bees during
flight, to compare sonication frequency to flight frequency.
Finally, we filmed A. murrayensis during buzz-pollination
using high-speed video, to compare its physical interaction
with the flower to the well-described sonication behavior of
B. impatiens.
Materials and methods
Study species and locations
We collected audio recordings of pollination buzzes by
Bombus impatiens (bumblebees) on Solanum lycopersicum
‘Sweet 100’’ (cherry tomatoes) and by A. murrayensis
(blue-banded bees) on S. lycopersicum ‘‘ Heirloom Roma
Cherry’and S. lycopersicum ‘‘ Tommy Toe’’ (cherry
tomatoes) (Fig. 1). Although the varieties of cherry toma-
toes (S. lycopersicum) used were different, the flowers are
very similar in size and morphology, and thus, we do not
expect that the tomato variety significantly affected buzz-
pollination characteristics (Online Resource 1, Tables VII
and IX). Recordings of B. impatiens were collected in a
community garden in Carlisle, Massachusetts, USA
(42520N; 71320W), and those of A. murrayensis at the
Adelaide Botanic Garden, Adelaide, Australia (34920S;
138610E). In Australia, S. lycopersicum ‘‘ Tommy Toe’
plants growing in the garden were supplemented with
potted tomato plants (S. lycopersicum ‘‘ Heirloom Roma
Cherry’’) to provide additional flowers. For the potted
plants, we recorded if the flower had been previously
Audio recordings and analysis
We collected audio recordings with a shotgun microphone
(SGM-1X, Azden, Tokyo, Japan) attached to a digital
recorder (DR-100mkII, Tascam, Montebello, California),
held within 3 cm of the bees’ bodies. We attempted to
position the microphone pointed at each bee’s thorax,
approximately orthogonal to the bee’s frontal plane. We
were not able to maintain that position for all recordings;
however, we have no evidence that recording from dif-
ferent angles affects the analysis of sonication frequency or
duration. We recorded bees while landing, buzzing flowers,
and flying away, to analyze audio characteristics of both
flight and buzz-pollination.
Because some bees perform multiple buzzes on a single
flower with pauses in-between, we recorded the time of
landing and takeoff to calculate the total visit duration.
This was considered a suitable estimate of the time spent
on a single blossom, since these bees generally did not
crawl between tomato flowers. When audio recordings did
not span the entire length of a flower visit, we excluded
them from the analysis of visit duration.
After collecting audio recordings of landing, buzz-pol-
lination, and takeoff flight, we captured bees with a net and
noted the time, temperature, and relative humidity. To
ensure independent samples, we either marked bees after
the first capture (and excluded recaptured bees from the
analysis) or collected the bees and pinned them as speci-
mens. We measured intertegular (IT) span with digital
calipers on bees that were released and with ImageJ (http:// on photographs of pinned specimens to
obtain the average size of each species (Online Resource 1,
Table I). When bees performed multiple buzzes while
visiting a single flower, the frequency and duration of these
buzzes were averaged for statistical analysis.
We played recordings in Audacity (http://audacity.sour and identified the start and end of each buzz
aurally and visually to determine the buzz length. We
defined buzzes that had breaks of less than about 0.1 s to be
single buzzes. Figure 2a shows an oscillogram from a
series of buzzes by B. impatiens, with a single buzz
expanded in Fig. 2b. We calculated buzz frequencies in R
(R Core Team 2012), using the ‘‘seewave’’ (Sueur et al.
2008) and ‘‘signal’’ (Signal Developers 2013) packages.
We first filtered recordings to remove low-frequency noise
and then calculated fundamental frequencies within sliding
Fig. 1 Photographs of bees used in this study. Bombus impatiens
workers (left) are typically larger than Amegilla murrayensis (right;
Online Resource 1, Table I). Both bees are shown on Solanum
lycopersicum flowers. Black bars indicate approx. 1 cm. Bumblebee
photograph credit: Tim Stanley/Native Beeology
Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior between Australian Amegilla3
windows of 2048 points, with 80 % overlap. Recordings
typically contained small number points that were clearly
outliers (Fig. 2c)—single data points at frequencies more
than one standard deviation beyond the median funda-
mental frequency. These outliers were most likely artifacts
caused by using a relatively small sliding window and/or
collecting recordings in noisy, outdoor environments. We
removed outliers and then calculated the median of the
trimmed distribution to determine the frequency of each
buzz (Fig. 2c).
We calculated wing beat (flight) frequency using the
same method as for buzz frequency—identifying flights
aurally and visually in Audacity, and then using R to cal-
culate fundamental frequency (Online Resource 1,
Table II). For one recording of a pollination buzz by B.
impatiens and four recordings of flight by A. murrayensis,
we were unable to obtain an accurate frequency using
seewave, so we analyzed these recordings manually, by
performing a fast Fourier transform (FFT) with the spec-
trum function in Audacity, using a Hanning window of
2048 points. We then listened to the recording and matched
the sound with one of the peaks from the FFT spectrum.
Video recordings
We collected videos of A. murrayensis performing buzz-
pollination on S. lycopersicum (cherry tomato) flowers in
the Adelaide Botanic Garden, using a high-speed camera
(TS3, Fastec Imaging, San Diego, California) recording at
2000 fps. We recorded a total of nine videos, four of which
are known to be of unique individuals, because we were
able to capture these bees after filming.
Statistical tests
All statistical tests were performed in R (R Core Team
2012). We used multiple linear regression to compare flight
frequency, average buzz-pollination frequency, average
buzz length, and visit duration between A. murrayensis and
B. impatiens; this method allowed us to compare the two
species of bees while accounting for environmental vari-
ables: temperature, time of day, and relative humidity. To
fit the assumptions of linear regression, we squared buzz-
pollination frequency, square-root-transformed flight fre-
quency, and log-transformed buzz length and visit dura-
tion. We also used paired ttests to compare flight versus
pollination buzz frequency for individuals within each
We used multiple linear regression to compare buzz-
pollination characteristics for A. murrayensis on different
tomato varieties and on virgin versus nonvirgin flowers
(Online Resource 1, Tables VII–IX).
We adjusted significance level using Bonferroni cor-
rection, to account for performing multiple comparisons
with the same individuals. Because we performed four
multiple regressions and one ttest, we adjusted our sig-
nificance level to 0.05 divided by 5, or 0.01. We did not
adjust the significance level to include the four covariates
in each of the multiple regressions, because the only
Fig. 2 Audio recordings of buzz-pollination. aOscillogram showing
four pollination buzzes by Bombus impatiens (bumblebee) on a flower
of Solanum lycopersicum ‘‘Sweet 100’’ (cherry tomato). Shaded
region indicates a single buzz. bExpanded oscillogram of the single
buzz shaded in a.cFundamental frequency calculated over the course
of the buzz shown in b.Dots represents the fundamental frequencies
calculated from overlapping windows of 2048 data points. Frequency
measurements that were identified as outliers and removed are
indicated by a plus symbol
4 C. M. Switzer et al.
variable of interest was the bee species. This correction is
overly conservative, but using a less-conservative adjust-
ment would not have changed our conclusions. Graphs
were made with ggplot2 (Wickham 2009).
None of the buzz-pollination or flight characteristics
quantified were associated with environmental variables
(temperature, relative humidity, time of day). We found
that buzz frequency was significantly higher for Amegilla
than for Bombus (t
=8.452, pvalue 0.001; Fig. 3a;
Online Resource 1, Table III), and wing beat frequency
was also higher for Amegilla than for Bombus
=13.372, pvalue 0.001; Fig. 3a; Online Resource
1, Table IV). Within each bee species, the wing beat fre-
quency during flight was significantly lower than the buzz-
pollination frequency (Amegilla t
=24.67, pvalue
0.001; Bombus t
=16.59, pvalue 0.001).
There was no significant difference between the two bee
species in the length of an individual pollination buzz
(Fig. 4b; t
=1.124, pvalue [0.2; Online Resource 1,
Table V), but B. impatiens spent more time on a single
flower than A. murrayensis (Fig. 3c; t
=3.974, pvalue
\0.005; Online Resource 1, Table VI). We found no sig-
nificant differences in buzz characteristics of A. mur-
rayensis when pollinating the two different varieties of S.
lycopersicum or when pollinating unvisited versus previ-
ously visited flowers (Online Resource 1, Tables VII–IX).
The high-speed videos revealed that A. murrayensis
differs markedly from B. impatiens (and many other buzz-
pollinating bees described thus far) in how it physically
interacts with the flower during buzz-pollination. While B.
impatiens and other bees grasp the flower’s anthers with
their mandibles as well as their legs, A. murrayensis does
not. All videos we collected showed A. murrayensis
grabbing the anther with only its legs and repeatedly tap-
ping the anther with its head at the high buzzing frequency
that is likely generated by its flight muscles (Fig. 4, Online
Fig. 3 Buzz-pollination and
flight characteristics of A.
murrayensis and B. impatiens.
aPollination buzz frequency of
A. murrayensis (white,n=22)
versus B. impatiens (gray,
n=53), and flight (wing beat)
frequency of A. murrayensis
(n=23) versus B. impatiens
(n=53). bAverage buzz
length of A. murrayensis
(n=22) versus B. impatiens
(n=53). cFlower visit
duration of A. murrayensis
(n=22) versus B. impatiens
(n=36). Double asterisks and
single asterisks indicate a
significant difference at
p\0.0001 and 0.0005,
Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior between Australian Amegilla5
Resource 2). Research indicates that the flight muscles are
used during sonication in Bombus occidentalis (King et al.
1996), and our high-speed videos show that the mesosoma
of A. murrayensis is deforming with each tap of the head
(Online Resource 2)—similar to the way that bumblebees’
mesosomas deform, while they buzz (Online Resource 3).
In particular, the videos for both bumblebees and blue-
banded bees show the first segment of the mesosoma,
called the pronotum, moving at the same frequency as the
head. The mesopleuron can also be seen oscillating during
buzz-pollination. In two recordings, we saw a bee briefly
grasp the anther with its mandibles, but it quickly switched
to the head-tapping behavior.
We noticed that A. murrayensis left brown marks on the
anther cone—these ‘‘bee kisses’’ are interpreted by com-
mercial tomato growers as a sign that bees have visited the
flowers (Buchmann and Nabhan 1996). A. murrayensis
may be damaging the anthers with impact forces, but the
resulting ‘‘bee kisses’’ are similar to those left by B.
We found that Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bees)
buzz cherry tomato flowers at significantly higher fre-
quencies (*350 Hz) than B. impatiens (*240 Hz; Online
Resource 1, Table II), while accounting for environmental
variables. The flight (wing beat) frequencies of both species
are lower than their buzz-pollination frequencies. This is
likely due to the properties of asynchronous muscles, which
are part of a resonant system (Josephson 2006). When the
mass of the wings is reduced in this system, the wing beat
frequency increases (Roberts and Cartar 2015). Likewise,
when the mass on the wings is increased or simply moved
further from axis of rotation, the frequency of the resonant
system should decrease. The lower frequency during flap-
ping flight is likely because the wings are extended during
flapping, but held close to the body during buzz-pollination.
A. murrayensis’ flight frequency is significantly higher than
that of B. impatiens, which is not surprising due to its
smaller body size (Burkart et al. 2011). Previous studies
have suggested that the amount of pollen released from
poricidal anthers increases with buzz frequency (Harder and
Barclay 1994) or with buzz frequency and displacement (De
Luca et al. 2013; King and Buchmann 1996); thus, the
higher buzzing frequency of A. murrayensis may be more
effective at releasing pollen from the anthers.
Despite the large difference in buzzing frequency
between species, the average length of a single buzz was the
same in A. murrayensis and B. impatiens, with both bees
buzzing in bouts lasting approximately 1 s—similar to the
duration required to eject most of the pollen from Solanum
laciniatum flowers (King and Buchmann 1996). However,
B. impatiens spent significantly more time on a single
flower (approximately 3.7 s), as compared to A. mur-
rayensis, which departed after *1 s. This difference is due
to the fact that B. impatiens typically buzzed an individual
flower several times (often gathering and cleaning pollen
from its body in-between buzzes) before departing, whereas
A. murrayensis typically buzzed a flower once and then flew
away to clean pollen from its body. Occasionally, A. mur-
rayensis returned to the same flower after cleaning, but most
often it moved onto a new flower.
The fact that A. murrayensis spent significantly less time
on each flower, typically buzzing the flower only once,
Fig. 4 Image sequence of Amegilla murrayensis during buzz-polli-
nation. Rather than grasping the anther firmly with its mandibles like
other buzz-pollinating bees, A. murrayensis taps its head against the
anther of a Solanum lycopersicum (cherry tomato) flower at the high
buzzing frequency generated by its flight muscles (approximately
350 Hz; Online Resource 1, Table II). The interval between images
(from Online Resource 2) is 1/1000 of a second. The dark marks on
the anthers were made with ink, to help visualize the movement of the
6 C. M. Switzer et al.
combined with its higher (and possibly more effective)
buzzing frequency, suggests that A. murrayensis may be
able to extract pollen from flowers more quickly than B.
impatiens. An alternative explanation for the difference
between bee species in the amount of time spent on each
flower is the possibility that tomatoes in Australia could
provide different amounts of pollen during buzzing than
tomatoes in the USA (due to potential differences in tomato
varieties, local environment, visitation rates by local bees,
etc.). However, because we recorded A. murrayensis per-
forming only a single buzz on both virgin and previously
buzzed flowers—which are known to release less pollen
(King and Buchmann 1996)—we do not believe that A.
murrayensis is adjusting the number of buzzes it performs
based on the pollen reward. Whether or not A. murrayensis
is in fact obtaining more pollen than B. impatiens with a
single buzz, the behavior of often moving onto the next
flower after performing only one buzz appears to be typical
for this species, at least when foraging from cherry tomato
We also found that A. murrayensis interacts with the
flower in a unique way during buzz-pollination. Rather
than grasping the anthers firmly with its mandibles and
shaking (as described for Bombus and many other bee
genera previously studied (Buchmann 1983; Buchmann
and Hurley 1978; Crobet and Huang 2014; Jesson and
Barrett 2005; King 1993; Online Resource 3), A. mur-
rayensis taps the anthers with its head repeatedly, at the
high frequencies most likely generated by its flight mus-
cles. This ‘‘head-banging’’ behavior may be intentional, or
it may be a side effect of the bees being unable to grasp the
anthers firmly enough with their mandibles while sonicat-
ing, possibly due to their small size or insufficient grip
strength—although other, smaller bee species, such as
Lipotriches (Halictidae), have been recorded grasping
anthers firmly with their mandibles during buzz-pollination
(Online Resource 4), and we observed A. murrayensis
grasping onto leaves with its mandibles while grooming its
The mechanical features of a buzz that have been pro-
posed to determine how much pollen is dislodged include
the length of a buzz and the maximum acceleration (often
called amplitude) (De Luca et al. 2013) or velocity of the
buzz (Corbet and Huang 2014). Acceleration and velocity
both increase with buzz frequency and with displacement
(Corbet and Huang 2014; De Luca et al. 2013). Impact
forces, which occur when two objects collide, cause sharp
changes in velocity, which in turn produce large spikes in
acceleration. Thus, the head tapping observed in A. mur-
rayensis, in which the head collides and then disengages
with the anther repeatedly at high frequencies, may pro-
duce higher accelerations than grasping the anthers firmly
and shaking. High accelerations produced by collisions
with the anther could lead to higher pollen release rates or
could help break up clumps of wet pollen. These
hypotheses could be tested in future studies by manipu-
lating flowers with mechanical shakers that either grasp
firmly or collide repeatedly with the anthers, and quanti-
fying the amount of pollen released.
If A. murrayensis is capable of removing more pollen
with a single buzz (due to its higher buzzing frequency and/
or head-tapping behavior), this could be detrimental from
the plant’s perspective, since a single forager is removing a
large portion of its pollen. On the other hand, some
researchers have suggested that high pollen removal from
poricidal anthers is associated with higher pollen deposi-
tion onto stigmas (Harder 1990; Harder and Thomson
1989), although this is not always the case for plants with
nonporicidal anthers (Wilson and Thomson 1991). In
addition, if A. murrayensis routinely spends less time on a
single flower, then it may move onto another flower more
rapidly than B. impatiens, which could lead to higher
pollination rates.
The relative effectiveness of A. murrayensis and B.
impatiens as pollinators may also be affected by other
aspects of their behavior—for instance, how well each
species grooms the pollen from its body (decreasing the
probability of transferring pollen between flowers), and
whether the behavior of one species brings its body closer
to the stigma (increasing the chances of depositing pollen).
A definitive answer to the question of pollination effec-
tiveness will ultimately require controlled experiments
comparing the yield of tomato plants buzz-pollinated by A.
murrayensis versus B. impatiens.
Although further work is required to make any claims
about the pollination effectiveness of these different bees,
our work shows that at least one native Australian bee—
Amegilla murrayensis—differs significantly from Bombus
spp. in several aspects of buzz-pollination, including its
buzzing frequency and the amount of time spent per
flower. Furthermore, our observation that A. murrayensis
interacts with flowers in a unique way during buzz-pol-
lination—by ‘‘head-butting’’ rather than ‘‘shaking’’ the
anthers—leads to further questions about the behavioral,
mechanistic, and evolutionary roots of this method of
Acknowledgments The authors thank Christopher De Ieso and
Remko Leijs for help in collecting data in the Adelaide Botanic
Garden, as well as the staff of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, notably
Carolyn Sawtell and Robert Hatcher, for allowing us to conduct
research with their plants. We would also like to thank Robin Hopkins
for helpful suggestions on the manuscript. This project was funded by
a Putnam Expedition Grant to C.S. from the Harvard Museum of
Comparative Zoology and by the National Science Foundation
(CAREER IOS-1253677) to S.C.
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8 C. M. Switzer et al.
... Indeed, stamen resonance plays a critical role in pollen expulsion in some wind-pollinated flowers [42][43][44][45]. However, a long-standing question in the study of poricidal flowers buzzed by bees is why the natural frequency of stamens falls outside of the buzzing frequency range for most bees, which has been reported from about 100 to 400 Hz [5,8,41,[46][47][48][49][50] (see also [7]). We found at least two S. elaeagnifolium stamen natural frequencies that occurred within the 0-5000 Hz experimental excitation range considered. ...
... Interestingly, the axial-bending mode (figure 9) present when the bee weight is considered satisfies both criteria. This mode has natural frequencies between 154.1 and 562.1 Hz (dependent on bee mass magnitude and location), which falls within the reported buzz frequency range for many species of bees [5,8,41,[46][47][48][49][50]. Further, its modal displacement is greatest in the transverse direction about 60% down from the anther tip. ...
... Further, its modal displacement is greatest in the transverse direction about 60% down from the anther tip. This is close to where floral buzzing bees typically bite the anther [28,50,51], and where the periodic load resulting from flight muscle vibration is effectively applied. Recent studies suggest the largest forces generated by defensively buzzing carpenter bees act in a direction transverse to the anther [38]. ...
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An estimated 10% of flowering plant species conceal their pollen within tube-like anthers that dehisce through small apical pores (poricidal anthers). Bees extract pollen from poricidal anthers through a complex motor routine called floral buzzing, whereby the bee applies vibratory forces to the flower stamen by rapidly contracting its flight muscles. The resulting deformation depends on the stamen's natural frequencies and vibration mode shapes, yet for most poricidal species, these properties have not been sufficiently characterized. We performed experimental modal analysis on Solanum elaeagnifolium stamens to quantify their natural frequencies and vibration modes. Based on morphometric and dynamic measurements, we developed a finite-element model of the stamen to identify how variable material properties , geometry and bee weight could affect its dynamics. In general, stamen natural frequencies fell outside the reported floral buzzing range, and variations in stamen geometry and material properties were unlikely to bring natural frequencies within this range. However, inclusion of bee mass reduced natural frequencies to within the floral buzzing frequency range and gave rise to an axial-bending vibration mode. We hypothesize that floral buzzing bees exploit the large vibration amplification factor of this mode to increase anther deformation, which may facilitate pollen ejection.
... Non-resonant frequencies are dampened by the floral structures causing the pollen to not be ejected [23]. Bees have been shown to overcome this selectivity by extending the duration of the sonication event [24]. The magnitude of energy transmission is dependent on the physical properties of the floral structure, which are highly correlated to turgor pressure [11]. ...
... Functional specialisation in the male physiology of some species necessitates sonication for pollen release ( Figure 5) [13]. These structures, which include poricidal anthers ( Figure 5), serve as dispensing mechanisms that divide their gamete resources amongst pollinator visits and thereby maximise the chance of dispersal by a variety of pollinators [24]. The precise mechanism of buzz-mediated pollen ejection is not fully understood, but current knowledge suggests centrifugal forces from anther excitation by a pollinator imparts kinetic energy onto pollen grains that results in elastic collisions and subsequent pollen ejection from the apical pore [20]. ...
... Asynchronous flight muscles, usually responsible for wing movement, form part of a resonant system that varies vibrational frequency depending on the mass it is driving. Preventing wing movement reduces the mass imposed on the system so the vibrational frequency can be increased [24]. It was suggested that larger bumblebees are able to produce greater peak amplitudes, which allows better pollen extraction [70], although it was also found that body size was poorly correlated to the acoustic components of floral vibration [71]. ...
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Global climate change and anthropological activities have led to a decline in insect pollinators worldwide. Agricultural globalisation and intensification have also removed crops from their natural insect pollinators, and sparked research to identify alternate natural insect pollinators and artificial technologies. In certain countries such as Australia the importation of commercial insect pollinators is prohibited, necessitating manual labour to stimulate floral pollination. Artificial pollination technologies are now increasingly essential as the demand for food grown in protected facilities increases worldwide. For tomato fruits, precision pollination has the ability to vastly improve their seed set, size, yield, and quality under optimal environmental conditions and has become financially beneficial. Like many crops from the Solanaceae, tomatoes have a unique self-pollinating mechanism that requires stimulation of the floral organs to release pollen from the poricidal anthers. This review investigates various mechanisms employed to pollinate tomato flowers and discusses emerging precision pollination technologies. The advantages and disadvantages of various pollinating technologies currently available in the protected-cropping industry are described. We provide a buzz perspective on new promising pollination technologies involving robotic air and acoustic devices that are still in their nascency and could provide non-contact techniques to automate pollination for the tomato horticultural industry.
... With an estimated 87.5% of angiosperms pollinated by animals (Ollerton et al., 2019), flower-pollinator interactions are critical for understanding pollen dispersal. Insect handling of flowers can occur too quickly to be captured by the naked eye or traditional video, which records at 30 fps (Sakamoto et al., 2012;Switzer et al., 2016). Slow-motion video can detail the behavior of pollinators during flower visitation so that one can see if visitors are collecting pollen, eating pollen, and how they are manipulating the flower to gather resources. ...
... In particular, the use of more portable high-speed cameras (such as the iPhone) will enable additional filming in the field, where gametophyte dispersal occurs under more realistic abiotic conditions and with biotic partners. Successful filming in situ has documented abiotic pollination in natural conditions (Timerman et al., 2014;Timerman and Barrett, 2021), as well as detailed interactions between flowers and biotic pollinators (Sakamoto et al., 2012;Switzer et al., 2016;Ito et al., 2020). Here we have included additional video examples of pollinators visiting flowers in situ (Videos 2, S1-S3), which has, in part, been facilitated by the enhanced ability to film under ambient light conditions and using more portable systems. ...
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Dispersal of gametophytes is critical for land plant survivorship and reproduction. It defines potential colonization and geographical distribution as well as genetic mixing and evolution. C. T. Ingold's classic works on Spore Discharge in Land Plants and Spore Liberation review mechanisms for spore release and dispersal based on real‐time observations, basic histology, and light microscopy. Many mechanisms underlying spore liberation are explosive and have evolved independently multiple times. These mechanisms involve physiological processes such as water gain and loss, coupled with structural features using different plant tissues. Here we review how high‐speed video and analyses of ultrastructure have defined new biomechanical mechanisms for the dispersal of gametophytes through the dissemination of haploid diaspores, including spores, pollen, and asexual reproductive propagules. This comparative review highlights the diversity and importance of rapid movements in plants for dispersing gametophytes and considerations for using combinations of high‐speed video methods and microscopic techniques to understand these dispersal movements. A deeper understanding of these mechanisms is crucial not only for understanding gametophyte ecology but also for applied engineering and biomimetic applications used in human technologies.
... The bruises are produced by bees holding on to the anthers with tarsal claws or mandibles (Buchmann and Nabhan 1996). In one of the well-named discoveries in pollination biology, 'head banging' is also described for some bees as a method to transmit body vibrations to anthers (Switzer et al. 2016). These observations combined make the access to, quantity of, and dispensing of the pollen of some importance (as in Buchmann et al. 1977). ...
The staminal column-corolla association in solanums constitutes a floral pattern that is distinctive, and generalized across a number of genera and families – characterized as ‘solanum-type’ flowers. We conducted experiments in natural populations of Solanum xanti in California, USA, to test the structure-function of the solanum staminal column and corolla. We excised the corolla of some flowers, the stamens of others, and painted stamens of others to assay pollinator response to changes in visible and UV patterns. Acrylic-painted staminal columns were yellow like the original anther color or concolorous with the corollas, and reflected light in the UV range instead of absorbing it. The flowers with stamens excised or with paint-altered UV patterns showed significantly lower fruit set, including those painted yellow. Experimental flowers with staminal columns only, i.e., with excised corollas, set fruit at the same rate as control flowers. Thus, the bee pollinators visit experimentally-altered flowers; they do not simply avoid aberrant flowers. While the combination of stamens and corolla are undoubtedly important visual attractants, our experiments support the underappreciated, and essential, role of the staminal column as a scaffold for the common, but distinctive, ‘buzz’ pollinators of solanums.
... Pollination biology of the species is unknown, but, like other Australian congeners, the flowers are likely buzz pollinated by bees in the genera Xylocopa and Amegilla (Apidae; see Anderson and Symon 1988;Switzer et al. 2016) and likely to present high levels of pollen nutritional reward -although with slightly differential rewards available to pollen foragers from male versus functionally female flowers (Ndem-Galbert et al. 2021). A small set (N = 10) of ex situ hand pollinations conducted for this study showed that inaperturate pollen produced by functionally female flowers does not lead to fruit set when used to pollinate other females. ...
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A new species of functionally dioecious bush tomato of Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum is described. Solanum scalarium Martine & T.M.Williams, sp. nov. , is a member of the taxonomically challenging “Kimberley dioecious clade” in Australia and differs from other species in the group in its spreading decumbent habit and conspicuously prickly male floral rachis. The species is so far known from one site in Judbarra/Gregory National Park in the Northern Territory. Ex situ crosses and confirmation of inaperturate pollen grains produced in morphologically cosexual flowers indicate that these flowers are functionally female and the species is functionally dioecious. The scientific name reflects the ladder-like appearance of the inflorescence rachis armature of male individuals, the stone staircase that provides access to the type locality at the Escarpment Lookout Walk, and the importance of maintaining equitable and safe access to outdoor spaces. The common name Garrarnawun Bush Tomato is proposed in recognition of the lookout point at this site, a traditional meeting place of the Wardaman and Nungali-Ngaliwurru peoples whose lands overlap in this area.
... (Button & Elle, 2014;Courcelles et al., 2013;Eeraerts, 2022;Estravis-Barcala et al., 2021;Rodriguez-Saona et al., 2011). Bees capable of buzz-pollination, for example, can adjust their foraging behaviour (within its inherent range) and adopt different strategies to maximize resource extraction from certain plants (Arroyo-Correa et al., 2019;Burkart et al., 2014;Corbet & Huang, 2014;Mesquita-Neto et al., 2018;Switzer et al., 2016;Vallejo-Marín, 2019 (Eeraerts et al., 2021;Potts et al., 2016;Rodríguez et al., 2021;Sutter et al., 2018;Williams et al., 2015;Windsor et al., 2021;Wood et al., 2015). Such efforts would provide nesting habitats and floral resources for native bee communities within farmed landscapes because they not only visit agricultural crops but also depended on native habitats to nest, feed, and reproduce ( Nicholson et al., 2017;Rodríguez et al., 2021). ...
Blueberry is one of the most relevant buzz‐pollinated crops worldwide and Chile is the most important global producer of fresh blueberries during wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere. Thousands of exotic Bombus terrestris are imported from Europe to pollinate blueberries. However, no study has investigated the performance of the native Chilean fauna to pollinate blueberry or other crops. Therefore, we aimed to compare the performance of native Chilean floral visitors with managed visitors to pollinate highbush blueberry. Per‐visit pollination performance (stigmatic pollen deposition) and floral visitation were measured and the presence of sonication behaviour of flower visitors was evaluated for five cultivars in two blueberry orchards located in southern Chile. Floral visitors showed a preference for one or more blueberry cultivars, instead of visiting all cultivars equally. Floral visits with sonication deposited more conspecific pollen on stigmas than visits without sonication. Some native sonicating bees (Cadeguala and Bombus), especially Cadeguala occidentalis, were efficient pollen vectors of blueberry and better pollinators than honeybees (5.8 times more pollen transferred) similar to that of the managed bee B. terrestris. The results indicate that some Chilean native bee species, especially those with sonication behaviour, can provide pollination service to highbush blueberry crops.
... This approach has enabled researchers to construct detailed ethograms describing the sequence of 280 behaviours involved in floral sonication (Macior 1968;Russell et al. 2016). Further-more, when video is combined with acoustic recording it enables researchers to connect physical movements of the bee to changes in buzzing properties (e.g., fluctuations in duration or frequency) as the vibration is imparted into the flower (Switzer et al. 2016). ...
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Approximately 6% of the world’s flowering plant species have specialised stamen morphologies that require mechanical stimulation (vibration) by bees in order to release pollen concealed within. This has given rise to the study of the phenomenon of buzz pollination. Although buzz pollination sits squarely within the discipline of biotremology, this link rarely has been made explicit. Our aim in this chapter is to bridge the gap that historically has existed between buzz pollination research and the discipline of biotremology. We will discuss what we know about bee-induced floral vibrations and compare them to other kinds of plant-borne vibrational signals. We will also highlight how certain experimental approaches developed by biotremology researchers have helped buzz pollination investigators better understand the complex behavioural and ecological interactions occurring between buzz pollinated plants and their bee visitors. We will then provide an overview of research methodologies for buzz pollination scientists and describe some of the more commonly used experimental approaches for record- ing and playback of bee-induced floral vibrations. By highlighting the many com- mon themes existing between studies in buzz pollination and biotremology we hope to stimulate others to explore the many exciting new research avenues in this unique biotic interaction.
... In this section, we start with the studies that focused on honeybees and proceed with studies focusing on other bee species, such as Bombus, Halictus, and Megachile. Bee audio analysis [91][92][93][94][95][96][97][98][99] 3.2.1. Honeybees ...
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Bees play an important role in agriculture and ecology, and their pollination efficiency is essential to the economic profitability of farms. The drastic decrease in bee populations witnessed over the last decade has attracted great attention to automated remote beehive monitoring research, with beehive acoustics analysis emerging as a prominent field. In this paper, we review the existing literature on bee acoustics analysis and report on the articles published between January 2012 and December 2021. Five categories are explored in further detail, including the origin of the articles, their study goal, experimental setup, audio analysis methodology, and reproducibility. Highlights and limitations in each of these categories are presented and discussed. We conclude with a set of recommendations for future studies, with suggestions ranging from bee species characterization, to recording and testing setup descriptions, to making data and codes available to help advance this new multidisciplinary field.
... Import of Melipona quadrifasciata from Brazil to Japan has been suggested, given the very low risk of this tropical species becoming invasive in temperate and cold environments [134]. In Australia, potential native crop pollinators such as Xylocopa lestis, Amegilla spp., Austroplebeia australis, Tetragonula carbonaria, and even the introduced syrphid hover y Eristalis tenax have been explored [135][136][137][138][139][140][141]. However, in many cases, the biology of native pollinator species does not allow for cost-ef cient, pro table rearing at commercial scale [5]. ...
Adequate pollination is fundamental to optimize reproduction and yield of most flowering plants, including many staple food crops. Plants depending on insect pollination rely heavily on many wild species of solitary and social bees, and declines or absence of bees often hampers crop productivity, prompting supplementation of pollination services with managed bees. Though honeybees are the most widely deployed managed pollinators, many high-value crops are pollinated more efficiently by bumblebees ( Bombus spp.), prompting domestication and commercial rearing of several species. This led to a blooming international trade that translocated species outside their native range, where they escaped management and invaded the ecosystems around their deployment sites. Here, we briefly review the history of bumblebee invasions and their main impacts on invaded ecosystems, and close by discussing alternatives to the use of commercially reared bumblebees to enhance crop pollination. As evidence of widespread negative effects on local ecosystems of bumblebee invasions builds up, bumblebee trade adds to the list of examples of "biological" strategies devised to solve agricultural problems that ended up being far from the "green," eco-friendly solutions they were expected to be.
... The 'droning', the bagpipe reminiscent 'piping/tooting', and duck-like 'quacks' of the bees auditory aesthetic, together with the human perceptual interpretations of the insects 'busy' and ordered social hierarchy, has influenced many areas in the auditory sphere such as music theory, composition, reproduction, artist names and composition titles, lyrical themes, and musical genre. In research culture, the buzzing of the beehive has a long history as a means to decipher bee communication, and assess hive health (Terenzi et al., 2020), and 'buzz pollination' of non-Apis bees is also a topic that has generated much interest (Cardinal et al., 2018;Switzer et al., 2016). As we will evidence in this section, humans' appreciation of the bees' aesthetic qualities (both auditorily and socio-dynamically), not only afford humans the ability to musically mimic/ abstract and share bee sound interpretations, but also to use these auditory signals as a means to interpret order, project human emotions, and explore cospecies musical construction. ...
Full-text available
The field of bioaesthetics seeks to understand how modern humans may have first developed art appreciation and is informed by considering a broad range of fields including painting, sculpture, music and the built environment. In recent times there has been a diverse range of art and communication media representing bees, and such work is often linked to growing concerns about potential bee declines due to a variety of factors including natural habitat fragmentation, climate change, and pesticide use in agriculture. We take a broad view of human art representations of bees to ask if the current interest in artistic representations of bees is evidenced throughout history, and in different regions of the world prior to globalisation. We observe from the earliest records of human representations in cave art over 8,000 years old through to ancient Egyptian carvings of bees and hieroglyphics, that humans have had a long-term relationship with bees especially due to the benefits of honey, wax, and crop pollination. The relationship between humans and bees frequently links to religious and spiritual representations in different parts of the world from Australia to Europe, South America and Asia. Art mediums have frequently included the visual and musical, thus showing evidence of being deeply rooted in how different people around the world perceive and relate to bees in nature through creative practice. In modern times, artistic representations extend to installation arts, mixed-media, and the moving image. Through the examination of the diverse inclusion of bees in human culture and art, we show that there are links between the functional benefits of associating with bees, including sourcing sweet-tasting nutritious food that could have acted, we suggest, to condition positive responses in the brain, leading to the development of an aesthetic appreciation of work representing bees.
Important breakthroughs have recently been made in our understanding of the cognitive and sensory abilities of pollinators: how pollinators perceive, memorise and react to floral signals and rewards; how they work flowers, move among inflorescences and transport pollen. These new findings have obvious implications for the evolution of floral display and diversity, but most existing publications are scattered across a wide range of journals in very different research traditions. This book brings together for the first time outstanding scholars from many different fields of pollination biology, integrating the work of neuroethologists and evolutionary ecologists to present a multi-disciplinary approach. Aimed at graduates and researchers of behavioural and pollination ecology, plant evolutionary biology and neuroethology, it will also be a useful source of information for anyone interested in a modern view of cognitive and sensory ecology, pollination and floral evolution.
There is commercial pressure to permit the introduction of bumble bees to mainland Australia for pollination of tomatoes in greenhouses. Bumble bees do not occur on mainland Australia, and there are indications that the recently introduced Bombus terrestris presents a threat to native ecosystems on Tasmania. In this pilot study, it was investigated whether the native green carpenter bees (Xylocopa (Lestis)) could be used as an alternative to bumble bees for tomato pollination. It is shown that Lestis females will visit and buzz pollinate flowers in a greenhouse and that tomatoes grown from Lestis pollinated flowers are on average heavier and contain more seeds than tomatoes that were not pollinated by Lestis. Therefore, there is potential to use Lestis for tomato pollination once methods for mass rearing the bees have been developed.
Buzz-pollination of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum MILL) by four native species of Japanese bumblebees (Bombus hypocrita hypocrita PÉREZ, B. ignitus SMITH, B. ardens ardens SMITH, and B. diversus diversus SMITH) was examined. A high (84-100%) fruiting rate and almost no puffy fruit (0-7%) resulted from pollination by the Japanese bumblebees. There was no difference in the pollination efficiency between the imported non-native bumblebee (B. terrestris) and Japanese bumblebees. Pollination of tomato crops using native bumblebees is recommended because there are no ecological risks.