, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 383-389

Effects of parasitic mites and protozoa on the flower constancy and foraging rate of bumble bees

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Parasites can affect host behavior in subtle but ecologically important ways. In the laboratory, we conducted experiments to determine whether parasitic infection by the intestinal protozoan Crithidia bombi or the tracheal mite Locustacarus buchneri alters the foraging behavior of the bumble bee Bombus impatiens. Using an array of equally rewarding yellow and blue artificial flowers, we measured the foraging rate (flowers visited per minute, flower handling time, and flight time between flowers) and flower constancy (tendency to sequentially visit flowers of the same type) of bees with varying intensities of infection. Bumble bee workers infected with tracheal mites foraged as rapidly as uninfected workers, but were considerably more constant to a single flower type (yellow or blue). In contrast, workers infected with intestinal protozoa showed similar levels of flower constancy, but visited 12% fewer flowers per minute on average than uninfected bees. By altering the foraging behavior of bees, such parasites may influence interactions between plants and pollinators, as well as the reproductive output of bumble bee colonies. Our study is the first to investigate the effects of parasitic protozoa and tracheal mites on the foraging behavior of bumble bees, and provides the first report of Crithidia bombi in commercial bumble bees in North America.

Communicated by M. Giurfa