Life-long radar tracking of bumblebees

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Woodgate, J. L., Makinson, J. C., Lim, K. S., Reynolds, A. M. and Chittka, L. 2016. Life-long radar tracking of bumblebees. PLOS ONE. 11 (8).

AuthorsWoodgate, J. L., Makinson, J. C., Lim, K. S., Reynolds, A. M. and Chittka, L.

Insect pollinators such as bumblebees play a vital role in many ecosystems, so it is important to understand their foraging movements on a landscape scale. We used harmonic radar to record the natural foraging behaviour of Bombus terrestris audax workers over their entire foraging career. Every flight ever made outside the nest by four foragers was recorded. Our data reveal where the bees flew and how their behaviour changed with experience, at an unprecedented level of detail. We identified how each bee’s flights fit into two categories—which we named exploration and exploitation flights—examining the differences between the two types of flight and how their occurrence changed over the course of the bees’ foraging careers. Exploitation of learned resources takes place during efficient, straight trips, usually to a single foraging location, and is seldom combined with exploration of other areas. Exploration of the landscape typically occurs in the first few flights made by each bee, but our data show that further exploration flights can be made throughout the bee’s foraging career. Bees showed striking levels of variation in how they explored their environment, their fidelity to particular patches, ratio of exploration to exploitation, duration and frequency of their foraging bouts. One bee developed a straight route to a forage patch within four flights and followed this route exclusively for six days before abandoning it entirely for a closer location; this second location had not been visited since her first exploratory flight nine days prior. Another bee made only rare exploitation flights and continued to explore widely throughout its life; two other bees showed more frequent switches between exploration and exploitation. Our data shed light on the way bumblebees balance exploration of the environment with exploitation of resources and reveal extreme levels of variation between individuals. 

KeywordsRRES175; 175_Entomology
Year of Publication2016
Journal citation11 (8)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderEuropean Research Council - ERC
Funder project or codeSustainability
Space use by bees– radar tracking of spatial movement patterns of key pollinators
Space use by bees - radar tracking of spatial movements for key pollinators
Publisher's version
Publication dates
Online04 Aug 2016
Publication process dates
Accepted18 Jul 2016
PublisherPublic Library of Science, San Fancisco (PLOS)
Public Library of Science (PLOS)
Copyright licenseCC BY
Grant ID339347

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