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Repellent scent-marking of flowers by a guild of foraging bumblebees (Bombus spp.)

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We have found that foraging bumblebees (Bombus hortorum, B. pascuorum, B. pratorum and B.␣terrestris) not only avoid flowers of Symphytum officinale that have recently been visited by conspecifics but also those that have been recently visited by heterospecifics. We propose that the decision whether to reject or accept a flower is influenced by a chemical odour that is left on the corolla by a forager, which temporarily repels subsequent foragers. Honeybees and carpenter bees have previously been shown to use similar repellent forage-marking scents. We found that flowers were repellent to other bumblebee foragers for approximately 20 min and also that after this time nectar levels in S. officinale flowers had largely replenished. Thus bumblebees could forage more efficiently by avoiding flowers with low rewards. Flowers to which extracts of tarsal components were applied were more often rejected by wild B. terrestris workers than flowers that had head extracts applied, which in turn were more often rejected than flowers that had body extracts applied. Extracts from four Bombus species were equally repellent to foragers. The sites of production of the repellent scent and its evolutionary origins are discussed.

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Received: 24 November 1997 / Accepted after revision: 8 March 1998

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Stout, J., Goulson, D. & Allen, J. Repellent scent-marking of flowers by a guild of foraging bumblebees (Bombus spp.). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 43, 317–326 (1998).

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  • Key words Tarsal secretion
  • Floral rewards
  • Pheromone
  • Symphytum officinale