Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 4, pp 501–510 | Cite as

Manuscript in preparation for Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Bumble bee pollen foraging regulation: role of pollen quality, storage levels, and odor

  • T. K. KitaokaEmail author
  • J. C. Nieh
Original Paper


The regulation of protein collection through pollen foraging plays an important role in pollination and in the life of bee colonies that adjust their foraging to natural variation in pollen protein quality and temporal availability. Bumble bees occupy a wide range of habitats from the Nearctic to the Tropics in which they play an important role as pollinators. However, little is known about how a bumble bee colony regulates pollen collection. We manipulated protein quality and colony pollen stores in lab-reared colonies of the native North American bumble bee, Bombus impatiens. We debut evidence that bumble bee colony foraging levels and pollen storage behavior are tuned to the protein quality (range tested: 17–30% protein by dry mass) of pollen collected by foragers and to the amount of stored pollen inside the colony. Pollen foraging levels (number of bees exiting the nest) significantly increased by 55%, and the frequency with which foragers stored pollen in pots significantly increased by 233% for pollen with higher compared to lower protein quality. The number of foragers exiting the nest significantly decreased (by 28%) when we added one pollen load equivalent each 5 min to already high intranidal pollen stores. In addition, pollen odor pumped into the nest is sufficient to increase the number of exiting foragers by 27%. Foragers directly inspected pollen pots at a constant rate over 24 h, presumably to assess pollen levels. Thus, pollen stores can act as an information center regulating colony-level foraging according to pollen protein quality and colony need.


Communication Recruitment Foraging Information flow Collective behavior Social insect 



We would like to thank David Holway, David Woodruff, Brian Johnson, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on this manuscript. This research would not have been possible without our exceptional research assistants, Morgan Brown, Joseph Soriano, Pegah Tehrani, Gabriel Tran, Katie Dayton, Diana Chen, Christina Chou, Amy Havens, Jessica Parkyn, Jaemi Yi, Natalie Reed, and the ORBS (Opportunities for Research in the Behavioral Sciences) Program (NSF IBN 0316697).


  1. Calderone NW, Johnson BR (2002) The within-nest behaviour of honeybee pollen forgers in colonies with a high or low need for pollen. Anim Behav 63:749–758CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Camazine S (1993) The regulation of pollen foraging by honey bees: how foragers assess the colony’s need for pollen. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 32:265–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cook SM, Awmack CS, Murray DA, Williams IH (2003) Are honey bee’s foraging preferences affected by pollen amino acid composition? Ecol Entomol 28:622–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Diaz PC, Gruter C, Farina WM (2007) Floral scents affect the distribution of hive bees around dancer. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:1589–1597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dobson HEM, Danielson EM, Van Wesep ID (1999) Pollen odor chemicals as modulators of bumble bee foraging on Rosa rugosa Thunb. (Rosaceae). Plant Species Biol 14:153–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dornhaus A, Cameron S (2003) A scientific note on food alert in Bombus transversalis. Apidologie 34:87–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dornhaus A, Chittka L (1999) Evolutionary origins of bee dances. Nature 401:38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dornhaus A, Chittka L (2001) Food alert in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris): possible mechanisms and evolutionary implications. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:570–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dornhaus A, Chittka L (2004) Information flow and foraging decisions in bumble bees (Bombus spp.). Apidologie 35:183–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dornhaus A, Chittka L (2005) Bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) store both food and information in honeypots. Behav Ecol 16:661–666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dornhaus A, Klügl F, Oechslein C, Puppe F, Chittka L (2006) Benefits of recruitment in honey bees: effects of ecology and colony size in an individual-based model. Behav Ecol 17:336–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dreller C, Tarpy DR (2000) Perception of the pollen need by foragers in a honeybee colony. Anim Behav 59:91–96PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dreller C, Page REJ, Fondrk MK (1999) Regulation of pollen foraging in honey bee colonies: effects of young brood, stored pollen, and empty space. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 45:227–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fewell JH, Winston ML (1992) Colony state and regulation of pollen foraging in the honeybee, Apis mellifera L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 30:387–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Free JB (1955) The division of labor within bumblebee colonies. Insectes Soc 2:195–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goulson D (2003) Bumblebees: their behaviour and ecology. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Granero AM, Sanz JM, Gonzalez FJ, Vidal JL, Dornhaus A, Ghani J, Serrano AR, Chittka L (2005) Chemical compounds of the foraging recruitment pheromone in bumblebees. Naturwissenschaften 92:371–374PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harder LD (1990) Behavioral responses by bumblebees to variation in pollen availability. Oecologia 85:41–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heinrich B (1979) Bumblebee economics. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  20. Heinrich B, Raven PH (1972) Energetics and pollination ecology. Science 176:597–602PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The ants. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  22. Lee KP, Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ (2004) The effects 334 of nutritional imbalance on compensatory feeding for cellulose-mediated dietary dilution in a generalist caterpillar. Physiol Entomol 26:108–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lindauer M, Kerr WE (1958) Die gegenseitige Verständigung bei den stachellosen Bienen. Z Vgl Physiol 41:405–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lindauer M, Kerr WE (1960) Communication between the workers of stingless bees. Bee World 41:29–41, 65–71Google Scholar
  25. Liu FL, Zhang XW, Chai JP, Yang DR (2006) Pollen phenolics and regulation of pollen foraging in a honeybee colony. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59:582–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mapalad KS, Leu D, Nieh JC (2008) Bumble bees heat up for high quality pollen. J Exp Biol 211:2239–2242PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Michener CD (1974) The social behavior of the bees. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  28. Molet M, Chittka L, Stelzer RJ, Streit S, Raine NE (2008) Colony nutritional status modulates worker responses to foraging recruitment pheromone in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:1919–1926CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nieh JC (2004) Recruitment communication in stingless bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Meliponini). Apidologie 35:159–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pankiw T (2007) Brood pheromone modulation of pollen forager turnaround time in the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). J Insect Behav 20:173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pernal SF, Currie RW (2001) The influence of pollen quality on foraging behavior in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51:53–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Raine NE, Chittka L (2007) Pollen foraging: learning a complex motor skill by bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). Naturwissenschaften 94:459–464PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rasheed SA, Harder LD (1997) Foraging currencies for non-energetic resources: pollen collection by bumblebees. Anim Behav 54:911–926PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Renner M, Nieh JC (2008) Bumble bee olfactory information flow and contact-based foraging activation. Insectes Soc (in press)Google Scholar
  35. Robertson AW, Mountjoy C, Fulkner B, Roberts M, Macnair M (1999) Bumblebee selection of Mimulus guttatus flowers: the effects of pollen quality and reward depletion. Ecology 80:2594–2606Google Scholar
  36. Roulston TH, Cane JH, Buchmann SL (2000) What governs protein content of pollen: pollinator preferences, pollen-pistil interactions, or phylogeny? Ecol Monogr 70:617–643Google Scholar
  37. Seeley TD (1985) Honeybee ecology. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  38. Seeley TD (1989) Social foraging in honey bees: How nectar foragers assess their colony’s nutritional status. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 24:181–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Seeley TD, Tovey CA (1994) Why search time to find a food-storer bee accurately indicates the relative rates of nectar collecting and nectar processing in honey bee colonies. Anim Behav 47:311–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Seeley TD, Camazine S, Sneyd J (1991) Collective decision-making in honey bees: How colonies choose among nectar sources. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 28:277–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Seeley TD, Mikheyev AS, Pagano GJ (2000) Dancing bees tune both duration and rate of waggle-run production in relation to nectar-source profitability. J Comp Physiol, A 186:813–819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. von Frisch K (1967) The dance language and orientation of bees, 2nd printing, 1993th edn. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  43. Waddington KD, Nelson CM, Page REJ (1998) Effects of pollen quality and genotype on the dance of foraging honey bees. Anim Behav 56:35–39PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Weidenmüller A, Tautz J (2002) In-hive behavior of pollen foragers, Apis mellifera, in honey bee colonies under conditions of high and low pollen need. Ethology 108:205–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wilson EO (1990) Success and dominance in ecosystems: the case of the social insects. J Anim Ecol 60:718–719Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Biological Sciences, Section of Ecology Behavior and EvolutionUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations