Social foraging in stingless bees: how colonies of Melipona fasciata choose among nectar sources
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In an experimental set-up, a colony of the stingless bee Melipona fasciata demonstrated its ability to choose the better of two nectar sources. This colony pattern was a result of the following individual behavioural decisions: continue foraging, abandon the feeder, restart foraging and initiate foraging. Only very rarely did individuals switch from one feeder to the other. With the first combination of a rich (2.7 M) and a poor (0.8 M) feeder M. fasciata behaved differently from Apis mellifera. Recruitment occurred to both feeders and the poor feeder was not abandoned completely. When the poor feeder was set to 0.4 M, M. fasciata abandoned the poor feeder rapidly and allocated more foragers to the rich feeder. These patterns were similar to those reported for A. mellifera with the first combination of feeders. Over a sequence of 4 days, experienced bees increasingly determined the colony patterns, and the major function of communication between workers became the reactivation of experienced foragers. The foragers modulated their behaviour not only according to the profitability of the feeder, but also according to previous experience with profitability switches. Thus, experience and communication together regulated colony foraging behaviour. These findings and the results of studies with honeybees suggest that M. fasciata and honeybees use similar decision-making mechanisms and only partly different tools.
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