Pollination potential of male bumble bees (Bombus impatiens): movement patterns and pollen-transfer efficiency

Katherine Ostevik, Jessamyn Manson, James Thomson


Many plant species rely on female bumble bee workers for pollen transfer. However, male bumble bees, which differ both behaviourally and morphologically from female workers, also visit many species of flowering plants and may transfer pollen differently. Males can outnumber workers on some plants, particularly those that flower late in the season. In laboratory experiments, we compared the movement patterns of male bees and female workers on an artificial flower array. We also compared the pollen transfer efficiency of males and workers foraging on Brassica rapa flowers. Males travelled between patches of flowers more often than workers, which may be an effective method for reducing geitonogamy in plants. Males also had lower foraging rates, longer flower handling time, and transferred more pollen from one B. rapa flower to the next than workers did. These caste-based differences in pollinating behaviour suggest that, under certain circumstances and on a per-visit basis, male bumble bees may be better pollen vectors than female foragers. Furthermore, our results emphasize the need to avoid species-wide generalizations of pollinator effectiveness.


<i>Bombus impatiens</i>; foraging efficiency; geitonogamy; sexually dimorphic behaviour

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.26786/1920-7603%282010%293

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ISSN 1920-7603


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