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Effects of experience and weather on foraging rate and pollen versus nectar collection in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris


This study examines factors that affect foraging rate of free-flying bumblebees, Bombus terrestris, when collecting nectar, and also what factors determine whether they collect pollen or nectar. We show that nectar foraging rate (mass gathered per unit time) is positively correlated with worker size, in accordance with previous studies. It has been suggested that the greater foraging rate of large bees is due to their higher thermoregulatory capacity in cool conditions, but our data suggest that this is not so. Workers differing in size were not differentially affected by the weather. Regardless of size, naïve bees were poor foragers, often using more resources than they gathered. Foraging rate was not maximised until at least 30 trips had been made from the nest. Foraging rates were positively correlated with humidity, perhaps because nectar secretion rates were higher or evaporation of nectar lower at high humidity. Temperature, wind speed and cloud cover did not significantly influence foraging rate, within the summertime range that occurred during the study. Weather greatly influenced whether bees collected pollen or nectar. Pollen was preferably collected when it was warm, windy, and particularly when humidity was low; and preferably during the middle of the day. We suggest that bees collect pollen in dry conditions, and avoid collecting pollen when there is dew or rain-water droplets on the vegetation, which would make grooming pollen into the corbiculae difficult. Availability of sufficient dry days for pollen collection may be an important factor determining the success of bumblebee colonies.

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Correspondence to Dave Goulson.

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Communicated by M. Giurfa

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Peat, J., Goulson, D. Effects of experience and weather on foraging rate and pollen versus nectar collection in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58, 152–156 (2005).

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  • Humidity
  • Size variation
  • Temperature
  • Thermoregulation
  • Wind