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Experience levels of individuals in natural bee populations and their ecological implications

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Abstract:

Learning difficult tasks requires an extended period of experience. It is unclear, however, what level of experience is exhibited by individuals in natural populations. If many individuals are rather inexperienced at any given time, they may not possess subtle information concerning, for example, local distributions of reward and danger, which may require long acquisition periods. To quantify individual experience in field settings, we conducted a field study involving extensive marking of individual honey bees (Apis mellifera L., 1758) and bumble bees (Bombus vagans Smith, 1854 and Bombus terricola Kirby, 1837) visiting milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) patches that harbored crab spiders (Misumena vatia (Clerck, 1757)), which prey on bees. The vast majority of bees either were fully inexperienced or had little experience with the specific flower patch that they were visiting. It is likely that such inexperienced bees do not possess subtle local information involving either reward or danger. Contrary to our prediction, even the most experienced bees did not avoid experimental patches harboring crab spiders, perhaps because even these bees did not possess sufficient experience. Our results indicate that conclusions from controlled laboratory experiments may not readily generalize to natural field settings. Thus, we must gather additional data on the long-term behavior of individually marked bees in natural conditions to better understand the interactions among flowers, bees, and bees' predators.

L'apprentissage des tâches difficiles requiert une longue période d'expérience. Il n'est pas clair, cependant, quel niveau d'expérience possèdent les individus dans les populations naturelles. Si plusieurs individus sont relativement inexpérimentés à un moment donné, ils peuvent ne pas posséder l'information détaillée concernant, par exemple, la répartition locale des bénéfices et des dangers, ce qui peut demander de longues périodes d'acquisition. Afin d'évaluer l'expérience individuelle dans des conditions de terrain, nous avons marqué un à un en nature un grand nombre d'abeilles domestiques (Apis mellifera L., 1758) et de bourdons (Bombus vagans Smith, 1854 et Bombus terricola Kirby, 1837) butinant des bouquets d'asclépiades (Asclepias syriaca L.) qui portaient des araignées crabes (Misumena vatia (Clerck, 1757)), des prédateurs des abeilles. La grande majorité des abeilles avaient peu ou pas d'expérience du bouquet particulier de fleurs qu'elles visitaient. Il est peu probable que de telles abeilles inexpérimentées possèdent la connaissance locale détaillée des bénéfices et des dangers. Contrairement à notre prédiction, même les abeilles les plus expérimentées n'évitent pas les bouquets expérimentaux contenant des araignées crabes et peut-être même ces abeilles n'ont pas suffisamment d'expérience. Nos résultats indiquent que les conclusions obtenues dans des expériences de laboratoire contrôlées ne peuvent pas être élargies facilement aux conditions naturelles de terrain. Il nous faut donc accumuler plus de données sur le comportement à long terme en conditions naturelles d'abeilles marquées individuellement pour mieux comprendre les interactions entre les fleurs, les abeilles, et les prédateurs des abeilles.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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