Deciding when to explore and when to persist: a comparison of honeybees and bumblebees in their response to downshifts in reward

Abstract

As the distribution of food resources shifts over time, central place foragers are likely to be repeatedly faced with the question of when to abandon a forage site that is declining in value and to subsequently search elsewhere. Although there has been a great deal of investigation into how individual foragers allocate time between exploration and exploitation, few studies have sought to explore this issue within a larger functional context. We take a comparative approach to this problem by examining decision making in individual honeybees and bumblebees as they responded to a downshift in food reward. Our results show not only that honeybees and bumblebees have significantly divergent strategies with regards to abandoning a food source that is declining in value but also in terms of the subsequent tendency to seek an alternative food source. We interpret these results in terms of both biological and social distinctions between these species and highlight how group-level characteristics are likely to shape the evolutionarily derived foraging strategies of individual animals.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Mara Trudgen and Michael Hillman for their all help with data collection. We would also especially like to thank Martin Giurfa and two anonymous reviewers for their enormously helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to John M. Townsend-Mehler.

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Communicated by M. Giurfa

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Townsend-Mehler, J.M., Dyer, F.C. & Maida, K. Deciding when to explore and when to persist: a comparison of honeybees and bumblebees in their response to downshifts in reward. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65, 305–312 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-010-1047-4

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Keywords

  • Foraging behavior
  • Honeybees
  • Bumblebees
  • Exploration versus exploitation
  • Social foraging