When should bees be flower constant? An agent-based model highlights the importance of social information and foraging conditions



1. Many bee species show flower constancy, i.e. a tendency to visit flowers of one type during a foraging trip. Flower constancy is important for plant reproduction, but the benefits of constancy to bees are unclear. Social bees, which often use communication about food sources, show particularly strong flower constancy.
2. We aimed to better understand the benefits of flower constancy in social bees and how these benefits depend on foraging conditions. We hypothesised that sharing social information increases the benefits of flower constancy because social foragers share information selectively about high-quality food sources, thereby reducing the need to sample alternatives.
3. We developed an agent-based model that allowed us to simulate bee colonies with and without communication and flower constancy in different foraging environments. By varying key environmental parameters, such as food source numbers and reward size, we explored how the costs and benefits of flower constancy depend on the foraging landscape.
4. Flower constancy alone performed poorly in all environments, while indiscriminate flower choice was often the most successful strategy. However, communication improved the performance of flower constant colonies considerably in most environments. This combination was particularly successful when high-quality food sources were abundant and competition was weak.
5. Our findings help explain why social bees tend to be more flower constant than solitary bees and suggest that flower constancy can be an adaptive strategy in social bees. Simulations suggest that anthropogenic changes of foraging landscapes will have different effects on the foraging performance of bees that vary in flower constancy.
Date made available2 Dec 2022

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