Vertical Orientation and Color Contrast and Choices by Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris L.)

Rachel Arnon, Tamar Keasar, Dan Cohen and Avi Shmida

The vertical inflorescences of several plant species are terminated by colorful bracts, which attract insect pollinators. The bracts contrast in color with the leaves below them, and are oriented perpendicular to the flowers on the inflorescence. We conducted laboratory experiments to determine the effects of color contrast and perpendicular orientation on the feeding choices of bumblebees. We first trained bees to feeders with color-contrasting perpendicular displays, composed of a horizontal and a vertical display component. We subsequently recorded the bees' choices among feeders that displayed only one of these cues. The bees preferred perpendicular displays that resembled the training model in the color of the horizontal component. None of them chose a color-contrasting display that was not perpendicular. We then evaluated the effects of the horizontal vs. vertical components of perpendicular displays on the bees' choices. After training bees to color-contrasting perpendicular displays, we allowed them to choose between displays that had either the same horizontal or the same vertical component as the training model. Foragers mostly oriented to the horizontal displays to which they had been trained. Our results suggest that (a) bumblebees can learn to associate three-dimensional perpendicular color-contrasting displays with food rewards; (b) these displays are processed hierarchically, with orientation dominating color contrast; (c) The horizontal component of perpendicular displays dominates the vertical component. We discuss possible implications of our findings for the evolution of flower signals based on extra-floral bracts.

December, 2006
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