Longer visits on familiar plants? Testing a regular visitor's tendency to probe more flowers than occasional visitors

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An individual pollinator may tend to consecutively probe more flowers on a plant to which it returns at shorter intervals than other plants. In a large net cage, I let individually marked bumble bees forage on flowering heads of red clovers arranged in 37 bottles (plants), each of which was monitored by an observer to record every visit and probe for 2.5 h on each of 3 days. The data of collective visits by marked individuals revealed that the bees had their own foraging areas, in which they visited a set of plants frequently and others less often, i.e., the same individual bee repeatedly returned to certain plants as a regular visitor while sampling others as an occasional visitor. I further found that as a regular visitor, an individual bee tended to probe more flowering heads on familiar plants while probing fewer on unfamiliar plants as an occasional visitor. The mean number of consecutive probes by a bee was also positively correlated with its activity (the total number of plant visits made during the observation period). The fact that each bee behaves differently on different plants indicates that the same individual pollinator can exert different influence on the reproductive success of each plant: apparently, a pollinator likely reduces the potential for geitonogamous self-pollination when foraging as an occasional visitor. Attracting occasional visitors therefore may be beneficial for plants to avoid geitonogamy. This study thus emphasizes the importance of paying attention to pollinator individuality in pollination ecology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-666
Number of pages8
JournalDie Naturwissenschaften
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jul


  • Bombus ignitus
  • Foraging area size
  • Geitonogamy
  • Individual visitation rates
  • Plant-pollinator interaction


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