Choosing rewarding flowers; perceptual limitations and innate preferences influence decision making in bumblebees and honeybees



Goulson D, Cruise JL, Sparrow KR, Harris AJ, Park K, Tinsley MC & Gilburn A (2007) Choosing rewarding flowers; perceptual limitations and innate preferences influence decision making in bumblebees and honeybees. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61 (10), pp. 1523-1529.

Flowers exhibit great intra-specific variation in the rewards they offer. At any one time, a significant proportion of flowers often contain little or no reward. Hence, foraging profitably for floral rewards is problematic and any ability to discriminate between flowers and avoid those that are less rewarding will confer great advantages. In this study, we examine discrimination by foraging bees among flowers of nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus. Bee visitors included carpenter bees, Xylocopa violacea, which were primary nectar robbers; honeybees, Apis mellifera, which either acted as secondary nectar robbers or gathered pollen legitimately and bumblebees, Bombus hortorum, which were the only bees able to gather nectar legitimately. Many flowers were damaged by phytophagous insects. Nectar volume was markedly lower in flowers with damaged petals (which were also likely to be older) and in flowers that had nectar-robbing holes. We test whether bees exhibit selectivity with regards to the individual flowers, which they approach and enter, and whether this selectivity enhances foraging efficiency. The flowers approached (within 2 cm) by A. mellifera and B. hortorum were non-random when compared to the floral population; both species selectively approached un-blemished flowers. They both approached more yellow flowers than would be expected by chance, presumably a reflection of innate colour preferences, for nectar standing crop did not vary according to flower colour. Bees were also more likely to accept (land on) un-blemished flowers. A. mellifera gathering nectar exhibited selectivity with regards to the presence of robbing holes, being more likely to land on robbed flowers (they are not able to feed on un-robbed flowers). That they frequently approached un-robbed flowers suggests that they are not able to detect robbing holes at long-range, so that foraging efficiency may be limited by visual acuity. Nevertheless, by using a combination of long-range and short-range selectivity, nectar-gathering A. mellifera and B. hortorum greatly increased the average reward from the flowers on which they landed (by 68% and 48%, respectively) compared to the average standing crop in the flower population. Overall, our results demonstrate that bees use obvious floral cues (colour and petal blemishes) at long-range, but can switch to using more subtle cues (robbing holes) at close range. They also make many mistakes and some cues used do not correlate with floral rewards.

ABILITY; ACCEPT; advantage; Bombus; BUMBLEBEES; CUE; Cues; DECISION; Decision making; decision-making; discrimination; EFFICIENCY; FEED; foraging; honeybees; LAND; LIMITATIONS; Population; preference; Preferences; primary; PROPORTION; RANGE; Reflection; time; variation; VISITORS

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology: Volume 61, Issue 10

Publication date31/08/2007
Publication date online04/04/2007

People (3)


Dr Andre Gilburn
Dr Andre Gilburn

Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor Kirsty Park
Professor Kirsty Park

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Dr Matthew Tinsley
Dr Matthew Tinsley

Senior Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences