Size variation and foraging rate in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris)
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Size polymorphism is an important life history trait in bumblebees with strong impact on individual behavior and colony organization. Within a colony larger workers tend to serve as foragers, while smaller workers fulfill in-hive tasks. It is often assumed that size-dependent division of labor relates to differences in task performance. In this study we examined size-dependent interindividual variability in foraging, i.e. whether foraging behavior and foraging capability of bumblebee workers are affected by their size. We observed two freely foraging Bombus terrestris colonies and measured i) trip number, ii) trip time, iii) proportion of nectar trips, and iv) nectar foraging rate of different sized foragers. In all observation periods large foragers exhibited a significantly higher foraging rate than small foragers. None of the other three foraging parameters was affected by worker size. Thus, large foragers contributed disproportionately more to the current nectar influx of their colony. We provide a detailed discussion of the possible proximate mechanisms underlying the differences in foraging rate.
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