In response to global declines in bee populations, several studies have focused on floral resource provisioning schemes to support bee communities and maintain their pollination services. Optimizing host-plant selection for supplemental floral provisioning requires an understanding of bee foraging behavior and preferences for host-plant species. However, fully characterizing these preferences is challenging due to multiple factors influencing foraging, including the large degree of spatiotemporal variability in floral resources. To understand bee pollen foraging patterns, we developed a highly controlled mechanistic framework to measure pollen foraging preferences of the bumble bee Bombus impatiens to nine plant species native to Pennsylvania. We recorded continuous observations of foraging behavior of the experimental bee community and individual bees, while simultaneously standardizing for the number of foragers in the environment and differences in floral display of each plant species, while controlling for flowering phenology such that bees only foraged when all plant species' flowers were open. Our results demonstrate that B. impatiens exhibit predictable daily patterns in their pollen foraging choices, and their preferences are dominated by the host-plants they visit first. We hypothesize that these patterns at the community and individual levels are driven by the interplay between pollen abundance and quality. We recommend that daily cycles of host-plant visitation be considered in future studies to ensure precise and accurate interpretations of host-plant preference. Such precision is critical for comprehensive analyses of the proximate and ultimate mechanisms driving bee foraging behavior and the selection of host-plant species to use in habitat restoration protocols.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Insect Science