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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Jun 7;276(1664):2031-6. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1748. Epub 2009 Mar 4.

Predator crypsis enhances behaviourally mediated indirect effects on plants by altering bumblebee foraging preferences.

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  • 1School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS, UK. t.c.ings@qmul.ac.uk


Predators of pollinators can influence pollination services and plant fitness via both consumptive (reducing pollinator density) and non-consumptive (altering pollinator behaviour) effects. However, a better knowledge of the mechanisms underlying behaviourally mediated indirect effects of predators is necessary to properly understand their role in community dynamics. We used the tripartite relationship between bumblebees, predatory crab spiders and flowers to ask whether behaviourally mediated effects are localized to flowers harbouring predators, or whether bees extend their avoidance to entire plant species. In a tightly controlled laboratory environment, bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) were exposed to a random mixture of equally rewarding yellow and white artificial flowers, but foraging on yellow flowers was very risky: bees had a 25 per cent chance of receiving a simulated predation attempt by 'robotic' crab spiders. As bees learnt to avoid 'dangerous' flowers, their foraging preferences changed and they began to visit fewer yellow flowers than expected by chance. Bees avoided spider-free yellow flowers as well as dangerous yellow flowers when spiders were more difficult to detect (the colour of yellow spiders was indistinguishable from that of yellow flowers). Therefore, this interaction between bee learning and predator crypsis could lead flower species harbouring cryptic predators to suffer from reduced reproductive success.

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