Temporal reward variability promotes sampling of a new flower type by bumblebees

Tamar Keasar, Uzi Motro, Avi Shmida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Foraging bumblebees focus mainly on one flower species (their 'major'), and occasionally visit other flowers ('minors') that are less rewarding. Minoring allows tracking of potential alternative resources that might become more profitable with time. This is expected to provide an adaptive benefit under unstable foraging conditions, but to reduce foraging efficiency when resources are steady. We tested how predictability of food sources affects minoring and foraging success, using Bombus terrestris workers that fed on sucrose solution in artificial flowers. Bees exposed to three colour-distinct flower types with fluctuating food rewards performed more minoring (visits to a fourth, nonrewarding flower type) than bees that encountered a stable reward schedule. This difference was mostly due to a higher frequency of flower type shifts in the fluctuating-reward treatment. Flowers of the highest-rewarding type were visited less frequently in the fluctuating-reward than in the stable-reward treatment. This suggests that the fluctuating-reward schedule limited the bees' ability to track the most profitable flower type. Intervals between successive visits were longer in the fluctuating-reward than in the stable-reward treatment, possibly because the fluctuating schedule required time-consuming neural processing. As expected, the number of minoring visits correlated negatively with the number of colour shifts and with foraging success in the stable-reward treatment. In the fluctuating-reward treatment, on the other hand, sucrose intake rates were independent of minoring and colour shift frequencies. We suggest that novelty seeking by foragers can evolve when food sources offer fluctuating rewards, which reduce foraging success but also the cost of exploring new resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-753
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
H. Haimsson, Y. Porath and G. Kosminski assisted with behavioural observations. Z. Sagiv and A. Werechson designed and built the artificial flowers. We thank D. Cohen for helpful discussions. Four anonymous referees provided helpful comments on the manuscript. The study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation and the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University .


  • Artificial flower
  • Bombus
  • Exploitation-exploration trade-off
  • Foraging
  • Handling time
  • Learning
  • Pollination
  • Travel time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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