Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 87–94 | Cite as

Effect of food location and quality on recruitment sounds and success in two stingless bees, Melipona mandacaia and Melipona bicolor

  • James C. NiehEmail author
  • Felipe A. L. Contrera
  • Juliana Rangel
  • Vera L. Imperatriz-Fonseca
Original Article


It is unclear whether stingless bees in the genus Melipona (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Meliponini) can reliably encode the distance to a food source through recruitment sounds produced inside the nest, in part because the sound features correlated with distance also vary with food quality. We therefore trained marked foragers of two species, Melipona mandacaia and M. bicolor, to feeders at different distances and to different sucrose concentrations at the same distance. In both species, foragers successfully recruited to a rich 2.5-m food source and produced pulsed recruitment sounds in which pulse duration was significantly and positively correlated with distance to the rich food source. When returning from poorer food sources (0.6–1.5 m), foragers of both species decreased sound production, producing shorter sound pulses and longer sound interpulses than they did for 2.5 m food located at the same distance. Thus the temporal structure of M. mandacaia and M. bicolor recruitment sounds varies with distance and food quality. However, nestmates were not recruited by performances for poorer food sources (0.6–1.5 m), whose sucrose concentration was sufficiently low to affect recruitment sounds. Surprisingly, the interphase (the time between behavioral phases that communicate location) also increases with decreasing food quality in the closely related honeybees (Apis), suggesting a potential homology in the effect of food quality on the recruitment systems of Apis and Melipona. We explore the evolutionary implications of these similarities.


Distance encoding Food quality Stingless bees Recruitment Sound 



We wish to thank Paulo Nogueira-Neto and the students, Kim Hong, Heather Hoover, Patrick O'Malley, Santiago Ramírez, Nik Sadler, and Jennifer Schofield, who have made the data collection and analyses possible. Melissa Thomas, David Roubik, Alvin Lyckman, Charles Michener, and anonymous reviewers contributed many valuable comments to this paper. The Walter F. Heiligenberg Endowment and FAPESP (proc. 99/10883-8 and proc. 02/00582-5) supported this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • James C. Nieh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Felipe A. L. Contrera
    • 2
  • Juliana Rangel
    • 1
  • Vera L. Imperatriz-Fonseca
    • 2
  1. 1.Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution University of California San Diego La JollaUSA
  2. 2.Laboratório de Abelhas, Departamento de EcologiaUniversidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil

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