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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Nov 7;274(1626):2661-7.

Contrasting responses of bumble bees to feeding conspecifics on their familiar and unfamiliar flowers.

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Integrative Environmental Sciences, Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tennodai 1-1-1, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki 305-8572, Japan.


Animals exploiting their familiar food items often avoid spatio-temporal aggregation with others by avoiding scents, less rewarding areas or visual contacts, thereby minimizing competition or interference when resources are replenished slowly in patches. When animals are searching or assessing available food sources, however, they may benefit from reducing sampling costs by following others at food sites. Therefore, animals may adjust their responses to others depending on their familiarity with foraging situations. Here, we conducted field experiments to test whether nectar-collecting bumble bees make this adjustment. We allowed free-foraging bees to choose between two inflorescences, one occupied by a conspecific bee and another unoccupied. When bees were presented with flowers of a familiar type, they avoided occupied inflorescences. In contrast, bees visited an occupied inflorescence when the flower type was unfamiliar. To our knowledge, this is the first report suggesting that animals adjust their responses to feeding conspecifics depending on their familiarity with food sources. Such behavioural flexibilities should allow foragers to both explore and exploit their environments efficiently.

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