Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bumblebees Able To Spot Which Flowers Offer Best Rewards


August 1, 2014


Unlike nectar, bees do not ingest pollen whilst foraging on flowers, and so until now it has been unclear whether they are able to form associative relationships between what a flower looks like and the quality of its pollen.

The study used bumblebee foragers housed under controlled conditions to test whether they do learn about flowers during pollen collection.

Their results show that bumblebees can individually assess pollen samples and discriminate between them during collection, quickly forming preferences for a particular type of pollen.

The findings, published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology, indicate that pollen foraging behavior involves learning and individual decision-making, which may allow bees to quickly learn which flowers provide the most nutritious pollen rewards for rearing their young.

Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Senior Lecturer in Neuroethology at the University of Exeter, said: “There is still very little known about how bees decide which flowers to visit for pollen collection. Easily learning floral features based on pollen rewards, without needing any nectar rewards, is a fast and effective way to recognise those flower species which bees have previously experienced to be the best ones.”

Dr Elizabeth Nicholls, a former PhD student at The University of Exeter and now a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, said: “Bees need to be able to select flowers providing the most nutritious food for rearing their young. Since bumblebees don’t eat pollen when foraging, it was unclear if or how they might be able to assess differences in quality. Here we’ve shown that they are able to detect differences in pollen, even before landing, which means they may be able to tell, just from the colour of the petals, which flowers are worth visiting.


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