Free access
Volume 37, Number 3, May-June 2006
Page(s) 387 - 397
Published online 10 March 2006
Apidologie 37 (2006) 387-397
DOI: 10.1051/apido:2006009

Effect of food availability on individual foraging specialisation in the stingless bee Plebeia tobagoensis (Hymenoptera, Meliponini)

Frouke Elisabeth Hofstede and Marinus Jan Sommeijer

Utrecht University, Behavioural Biology, Tropical Bee Research Unit, Po Box 80086, 3508TB Utrecht, The Netherlands

(Received 18 August 2005 - revised and accepted 10 October 2005 - published online 10 March 2006)

Abstract - This study reports on the occurrence and dynamics of foraging task specialisation in the stingless bee Plebeia tobagoensis. We test the hypothesis that in a stable environment foraging task specialisation is preferred, but that individuals readily switch to other foraging tasks when changes in food availability occur. The study was performed in a greenhouse, where food availability could be controlled. When all food sources were available, most individuals (71%) specialised on the collection of one food commodity. When this commodity was removed 50% of the specialists switched foraging tasks. When comparing foraging performance of flexible and specialised foragers we found that specialised bees performed better. However, most specialised foragers do make a costly switch to other foraging tasks when a change in food availability occurs. It seems likely that this high individual flexibility is adaptive for relatively small social bee colonies, living in a dynamic environment.

Key words: task specialisation / foraging performance / food availability / stingless bees / Plebeia

Corresponding author: Frouke Elisabeth Hofstede

© INRA, DIB-AGIB, EDP Sciences 2006