Pollinator Foraging Behaviour in a Dynamically Changing Environment (#346)
Given the recent decline in insect pollinators, especially bee species, it is vital that we understand why this is occurring and more importantly what can be done to mitigate these losses. One of the reasons thought to contribute is modern day intensive agriculture, an effect of this being a reduction in the abundance and diversity of important pollinator food resources. My PhD project aims to develop several different pollinator foraging strategies informed by existing and ongoing empirical evidence and find which would be optimal given changeable environmental conditions. The two main aspects of the foraging strategies are 1 whether or not the pollinators respond to scent marks deposited by themselves or others in the colony on recently visited resource (stigmergy), and 2 whether or not multiple pollinators may select the same resource and therefore share it at a single time-step. The foraging strategies were simulated and compared using the amount of resources obtained over time (resource gradient); it was found that a colony of pollinators should alter their foraging strategy according to the level of resource competition and this transition is affected by resource type and resource replenishment. Experiments were performed using buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to help gather empirical evidence on a pollinator’s ability to detect scent marks deposited only by themselves on recently visited resources. The bees were repeatedly exposed individually to a set of identically looking artificial flowers; the aim of the experiment was to discover whether or not they could learn to associate their own scent mark with unrewarding flowers and the absence of their scent mark with rewarding flowers. The bees demonstrated a learned preference for flowers that had been scent marked even when they were equally as rewarding as the non-scent marked flowers.