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Environ Entomol. 2016 Feb 1. pii: nvv230. [Epub ahead of print]

Honey Bees Avoiding Ant Harassment at Flowers Using Scent Cues.

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Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside 900 University Ave, Riverside, CA 92521 (;, and
Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside 900 University Ave, Riverside, CA 92521 (;, and.


Pollinators require resources throughout the year to maintain healthy populations. Along the urban-natural interface, floral resource availability may be limited especially when the system experiences extreme drought and fire threats. In such areas, succulents, such as Aloe spp., are commonly planted to serve as functional drought-tolerant, fire-protective landscaping, which can also support pollinator populations. However, access to this resource may be restricted by competition from other floral foragers, including invasive pests. We measured free-foraging honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) visitation rate and visitation duration to aloe flowers with and without Argentine ants (Linepithema humile (Mayr)) in a drought-stressed environment and found that bees actively avoided foraging on the ant-occupied flowers. To determine the mechanisms of avoidance, our subsequent experiments assessed visitation in the absence of ants and compared aloe flowers treated with ant pheromone to unmanipulated flowers lacking ant pheromone. Bees approached all flowers equally, but accepted flowers without ants at a higher rate than flowers with ants. Visitation duration also increased twofold on ant-excluded flowers, which suggests that Argentine ants may limit resource acquisition by bees. Honey bees similarly avoided flowers with Argentine ant pheromone and preferentially visited unmanipulated flowers at threefold higher rate. This study demonstrates that honey bees avoid foraging on floral resources with invasive Argentine ants and that bees use ant odors to avoid ant-occupied flowers. Resource limitation by this invasive pest ant may have serious implication for sustaining healthy pollinator populations at the urban-natural interface.


invasive species; pheromone; pollinator harassment; urban


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