, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 258-264

Influence of environmental and colony factors on the initial commodity choice of foragers of the stingless bee Plebeia tobagoensis (Hymenoptera, Meliponini)

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Abstract.

Novice foragers of social bees have to decide what food commodity to collect when they start foraging for the first time. In this decision making process two types of factors are involved: internal factors (the response threshold) and external factors (environmental and colony conditions). In this study we will focus on the importance of two external factors, pollen storage level and information from experienced foragers about food availability in the field, on the initial commodity choice of foragers of the stingless bee species Plebeia tobagoensis. We also studied the effect of the initial choice of individuals on their subsequent foraging career. This study was performed in a closed greenhouse compartment, where food availability and colony condition could be controlled.

Information on food availability in the field from experienced foragers and pollen storage level both greatly influenced the initial commodity choice of individuals, with more choices for the commodity communicated by experienced foragers or lacking in storage. The initial choice of foragers is of importance for their future foraging career, although a substantial proportion of foragers did switch between food commodities. Because of the ability of novice foragers to become flexibly distributed over foraging tasks, social bees are able to react to changes in their environment without directly having to decrease foraging effort devoted to other foraging tasks. This, in combination with individual flexibility during foraging careers makes it possible for colonies of P. tobagoensis to forage efficiently in an ever-changing environment.

Received 7 November 2005; revised 12 January 2006; accepted 16 February 2006.