Divergent Rules for Pollen and Nectar Foraging Bumblebees A Laboratory Study with Artificial Flowers Offering Diluted Nectar Substitute and Pollen Surrogate
Almost all bees collect nectar and pollen from flowers. Female bees collect pollen to provision their nest cells, whereas they use nectar for individual energy supply and nest cell provisioning. Bees fine-tune nectar foraging to the amount and to the concentration of nectar, but the individual bees' response to variability of amount and concentration of pollen reward has not yet been studied thoroughly in laboratory settings. We developed an experimental set-up in which bumblebees simultaneously collected sugar solution and pollen from artificial flowers; natural pollen was mixed with cellulose powder or glass powder as a pollen surrogate. Here we show that bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) workers do not specialise in nectar or pollen collection, but regularly collect both rewards on the same day. When offered a fixed pollen reward and varied amounts and concentrations of sugar solution, the bumblebees fine-tuned sugar solution foraging dependent on both the volume and concentration, with strong preferences for the highest concentration and the greatest volume. In the reciprocal tests, when offered a fixed sugar reward and varied amounts and concentrations of pollen mixed with a nutrient-free pollen surrogate, the bumblebees follow more an all-or-none rule for pollen, accepting all amounts and concentrations except pure surrogate. It is discussed how the bumblebees' ability to sense sugar, and their apparent inability to sense the pollen protein content, shaped their foraging behaviour. It is argued that the rarity of nectar mimicry and the frequency of pollen mimicry in natural flowers might be interpreted in the context of divergent abilities of nectar and pollen recognition in bees.