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International Journal of Insect Science

Is Bumblebee Foraging Efficiency Mediated by Morphological Correspondence to Flowers?

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International Journal of Insect Science 2011:3 1-10

Original Research

Published on 16 May 2011

DOI: 10.4137/IJIS.S4758


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Abstract

Preference for certain types of flowers in bee species may be an adaptation for efficient foraging, and they often prefer flowers whose shape fits their mouthparts. However, it is unclear whether such flowers are truly beneficial for them. We address this issue by experimentally measuring foraging efficiency of bumblebees, the volume of sucrose solution consumed over handling time (µL/second), using long-tongued Bombus diversus Smith and short-tongued B. honshuensis Tkalcu that visit Clematis stans Siebold et Zuccarini. The corolla tube length of C. stans decreases during a flowering period, and male flowers are longer than female flowers. Long- and short-tongued bumblebees frequently visited longer and shorter flowers, respectively. Based on these preferences, we hypothesized that bumblebee foraging efficiency is higher when visiting flowers that show a good morphological fit between the proboscis and the corolla tube. Foraging efficiency of bumblebees was estimated using flowers for which nectar quality and quantity were controlled, in an experimental enclosure. We show that 1) the foraging efficiency of B. diversus was enhanced when visiting younger, longer flowers, and that 2) the foraging efficiency of B. honshuensis was higher when visiting shorter female flowers. This suggests that morphological correspondence between insects and flowers is important for insect foraging efficiency. However, in contradiction to our prediction, 3) short-tongued bumblebees B. honshuensis sucked nectar more efficiently when visiting younger, longer flowers, and 4) there was no significant difference in the foraging efficiency of B. diversus between flower sexes. These results suggest that morphological fit between the proboscis and the corolla tube is not a sole determinant of foraging efficiency. Bumblebees may adjust their sucking behavior in response to available rewards, and competition over rewards between bumblebee species might change visitation patterns in the wild. Thus, the determinants of foraging efficiency and visitation frequency for bee pollinators may be more complex than previously thought.



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