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Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior between Australian Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bees) and North American Bombus impatiens (bumblebees)

Abstract

Many bees collect pollen by grasping the anthers of a flower and vibrating their flight muscles at high frequencies—a behavior termed sonication, or buzz-pollination. Here we compare buzz-pollination on Solanum lycopersicum (cherry tomatoes) by two bees that fill similar niches on different continents—in Australia, Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bee), and in North America, Bombus impatiens (bumblebee). We collected audio recordings of buzz-pollination and quantified the frequency and length of buzzes, as well as the total time spent per flower. We found that A. murrayensis buzzes at significantly higher frequencies (~350 Hz) than B. impatiens (~240 Hz) and flaps its wings at higher frequencies during flight. There was no difference in the length of a single buzz, but A. murrayensis spent less time on each flower, as B. impatiens buzzed the flower several times before departing, whereas A. murrayensis typically buzzed the flower only once. High-speed videos of A. murrayensis during buzz-pollination revealed that its physical interaction with the flower differs markedly from the mechanism described for Bombus and other bees previously examined. Rather than grasping the anther cone with its mandibles and shaking, A. murrayensis taps the anther cone with its head at the high buzzing frequencies generated by its flight muscles. This unique behavior, combined with its higher buzzing frequency and reduced flower visit duration, suggests that A. murrayensis may be able to extract pollen more quickly than B. impatiens, and points to the need for further studies directly comparing the pollination effectiveness of these species.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Christopher De Ieso and Remko Leijs for help in collecting data in the Adelaide Botanic Garden, as well as the staff of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, notably Carolyn Sawtell and Robert Hatcher, for allowing us to conduct research with their plants. We would also like to thank Robin Hopkins for helpful suggestions on the manuscript. This project was funded by a Putnam Expedition Grant to C.S. from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and by the National Science Foundation (CAREER IOS-1253677) to S.C.

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Correspondence to Callin M. Switzer.

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Handling Editor: Heikki Hokkanen.

Electronic supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 6808 kb)

Online Resource 2

High-speed video of Amegilla murrayensis collecting pollen from a Solanum lycopersicum flower, demonstrating its unique “head-butting” behavior. (MP4 90313 kb)

Online Resource 3

High-speed video of Bombus impatiens collecting pollen from a Solanum lycopersicum flower, grasping the anthers with its mandibles. (MP4 27931 kb)

Online Resource 4

High-speed video of Lipotriches flavoviridis collecting pollen from a Dianella perfragrans flower, grasping the anthers with its mandibles. (MP4 37280 kb)

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Switzer, C.M., Hogendoorn, K., Ravi, S. et al. Shakers and head bangers: differences in sonication behavior between Australian Amegilla murrayensis (blue-banded bees) and North American Bombus impatiens (bumblebees). Arthropod-Plant Interactions 10, 1–8 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11829-015-9407-7

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Keywords

  • Sonication
  • Solanum
  • Vibration
  • Pollination
  • Native bees