Giovanetti, M. (2018) Foraging choices balanced between resource abundance and handling concerns: how the honeybee, Apis mellifera, select the flowers of Robinia pseudoacacia.Bulletin of Entomological Research, 16, 1-9. DOI:10.1017/S0007485318000561 (IF2017 1,721; Q1 Entomology)
Nectar is a main resource harvested by foraging honeybees: their ability in selecting among flowers is the key to optimize resource collection. This ability is expected to be the result of co-evolutionary traits between the plant and the pollinator visiting it; notwithstanding, novel interactions may occur between native and invasive species. Analysing foraging efforts, flexibility and individual constrains has to be taken into account. The foraging pattern of the ubiquitous honeybee on Robinia pseudoacacia, a North-American species widely naturalized in European countries, grounds a perfect case study. The plant shows papilionate flowers especially reach in nectar, but their tripping mechanism is difficult for the small/light-weight honeybee. Yet Apis melliferais known to pay frequent and constant visits to them: in fact, one of the most appreciated unifloral honey is produced out of R. pseudoacacia. The aim of this study was to understand when and how the bees overcome physical constraints to succeed in flower visits, and to what extent this flexibility extend from the individual to the species. Data were collected in Italy, through focal observations of foraging individuals, nectar content measurements and experiments with manipulated inflorescences. Results clearly indicate that nectar content changes accordingly to the state of flowers (visited or unvisited), which also show slight changes in appearance. Foraging individuals, able to detect these differences, perform active choices preferentially selecting already-visited flowers: lower in nectar content but easier to manipulate. Even if the choice is primarily driven by handling constraints, individual experience and strength of stimuli are prompting visits also to unvisited flowers, notwithstanding a higher risk of failure in resource collection. Behavioural plasticity matching a satisfactory compromise grounds the decision that maximizes the intake of resource balanced with the effort to gain it.