Foraging strategy predicts foraging economy in a facultative secondary nectar robber

Sarah K. Richman, Rebecca E. Irwin, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In mutualistic interactions, the decision whether to cooperate or cheat depends on the relative costs and benefits of each strategy. In pollination mutualisms, secondary nectar robbing is a facultative behavior employed by a diverse array of nectar-feeding organisms, and is thought to be a form of cheating. Primary robbers create holes in floral tissue through which they feed on nectar, whereas secondary robbers, which often lack chewing mouthparts, feed on nectar through existing holes. Because primary robbers make nectar more readily available to secondary robbers, primary robbers facilitate the behaviors of secondary robbers. However, the net effect of facilitation on secondary robber fitness has not been empirically tested: it is unknown whether the benefit secondary robbers receive is strong enough to overcome the cost of competing with primary robbers for a shared resource. We conducted foraging experiments using the bumble bee Bombus bifarius, which can alternatively forage ‘legitimately’ (from the floral opening) or secondary-rob. We measured the relative foraging efficiencies (handling time per flower, flowers visited per minute, proportion of foraging bout spent consuming nectar) of these alternative behaviors, and tested whether the frequency of primary robbing and nectar standing crop in primary-robbed flowers of Linaria vulgaris (Plantaginaceae) affected foraging efficiency. Surprisingly, there was no effect of primary robbing frequency on the foraging efficiency of secondary-robbing B. bifarius. Instead, foraging strategy was a major predictor of foraging efficiency, with legitimate foraging being significantly more efficient than secondary robbing. Legitimate foraging was the more common strategy used by B. bifarius in our study; however, it is rarely used by B. bifarius foraging on L. vulgaris in nature, despite indications that it is more efficient. Our results suggest the need for deeper investigations into why bees adopt secondary robbing as a foraging strategy, specifically, the environmental contexts that promote the behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1250-1257
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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