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Are honey bees' foraging preferences affected by pollen amino acid composition?

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Abstract. 

1. Although pollen is a vital nutritional resource for honey bees, Apis mellifera, the influence of pollen quality on their foraging behaviour is little understood.

2. In choice-test experiments, bees showed no innate pollen-foraging preferences, but preferred oilseed rape Brassica napus pollen over field bean Vicia faba pollen after previous foraging experience of oilseed rape.

3. The free amino acid content of oilseed rape and field bean pollen was compared using high-performance liquid chromatography. Oilseed rape pollen contained a greater proportion of the most essential amino acids required by honey bees (valine, leucine, and isoleucine) than field bean, suggesting that oilseed rape pollen is of greater nutritional quality for honey bees than is field bean pollen.

4. Honey bee foraging preferences appeared to reflect pollen quality. The hypothesis that pollen amino acid composition affects the foraging behaviour of honey bees is discussed.
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Keywords: Apis mellifera; HPLC; diet quality; essential amino acids; pollen; protein

Document Type: Short Communication

Affiliations: 1: Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Division, Rothamsted Research, U.K., 2: Biomathematics Unit, Agriculture and the Environment Division, Rothamsted Research, U.K. and

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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