, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 579-584
Date: 23 Jul 2004

A mark-recapture study of male Colletes cunicularius bees: implications for pollination by sexual deception

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Abstract

An unusual pollination strategy is pollination by sexual deception in which orchids sexually attract male insects as pollinators. One gap in knowledge concerns the pattern and extent of pollinator movement among these sexually deceptive flowers and how this translates to pollen and gene flow. Our aim was to use mark and recapture techniques to investigate the behavior and movement of male Colletes cunicularius, an important bee pollinator of Ophrys. Our study site was located in northern Switzerland where a large population of the bees was nesting. Within two plots, (10×40 m), we marked bees with different colors and numbered tags. Seventeen percent of the 577 marked bees were recaptured over a period of 1 to a maximum of 11 days. However, the number of recaptures dropped dramatically after 3–5 days, suggesting an average lifetime of less than 10 days. Mark-recapture distances varied from 0 to 50 m, with a mean of 5 m. Our findings show that individual male bees patrol a specific and restricted region of the nesting area in search of mates. This mark-recapture study provides the first clues about the potential movement of pollen within populations of Ophrys orchids. We predict that orchid-pollen movements mediated by bees will be similar to the mark-recapture distances in this study. Parallel studies within orchid populations, including direct studies of pollen movement, are now required to better understand how pollinator mate-searching behavior translates to pollination success and pollen movement within sexually deceptive orchid populations.

Communicated by R.F.A. Moritz