, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 286-292
Date: 14 Nov 2003

The communal crop: modulation of sucrose response thresholds of pre-foraging honey bees with incoming nectar quality

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Abstract

We examined whether the quality (concentration) of incoming sucrose solutions returned by foraging honey bees affected the response thresholds of pre-foraging members of the colony. Six pairs of colonies were given ad libitum access to sucrose solution feeders. A colony from each pair was switched from 20–50% sugar concentration feeders while the other continued to have access to 20% sucrose feeders. Proboscis extension response (PER) scores to an increasing series of sucrose concentrations were significantly higher in pre-foragers of colonies foraging on 20% sucrose throughout compared to pre-foragers in colonies where foraging was switched to 50% sucrose. Although all colonies had honey stores, the concentration of sugar solution in non-foraging bees’ crops were significantly lower in bees from colonies foraging on 20% sucrose compared to those from colonies foraging on 50% sucrose. Because response thresholds to sugar of young bees were modulated by the concentration of sucrose solution returned to colonies, we repeated the 2000 study of Pankiw and Page that potentially confounded baseline response thresholds with modulated scores due to experience in the colony. Here, we examined PER scores to sucrose in bees within 6 h of emergence, prior to feeding experience, and their forage choice 2 to 3 weeks later. Pollen foragers had higher PER scores as newly emerged bees compared to bees that eventually became nectar foragers. These results confirm those of the 2000 study by Pankiw and Page. Combined, these experiments demonstrate that variation in pre-forager sucrose response thresholds are established prior to emerging as adults but may be modulated by incoming resources later on. Whether this modulation has long-term effects on foraging behavior is unknown but modulation has short-term effects and the potential to act as a means of communication among all bees in the colony.

Communicated by M. Giurfa