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Effects of Experience on Short- and Long-term Foraging Performance in Bumblebees


Reuven Dukas, Animal Behaviour Group, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8S 4K1.


Honeybees in natural settings show a gradual increase in foraging performance similar to the general pattern of lifetime performance seen in a wide variety of animals including humans. To quantify the factors contributing to such gradual increase in foraging success, we studied bumblebees foraging on pepper plants inside a greenhouse. This allowed us to combine the global measure of the net rate of food delivery to the hive with a detailed examination of bees’ performance at flowers over time. Although bees exhibited short-term improvements in foraging ability during their first few foraging trips, we did not observe the predicted long-term increase in performance over days. Our results suggest that a variety of flower-handling tasks, flower choice and movements between plants can be learned quickly under the simple greenhouse settings. The long-term increase in performance under natural settings may be caused by factors including spatial orientation and locating the best plant species, flower patches and individual plants over a large area.