The Sensory and Cognitive Ecology of Nectar Robbing

Sarah K. Richman, Jessica L. Barker, Minjung Baek, Daniel R. Papaj, Rebecca E. Irwin, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Animals foraging from flowers must assess their environment and make critical decisions about which patches, plants, and flowers to exploit to obtain limiting resources. The cognitive ecology of plant-pollinator interactions explores not only the complex nature of pollinator foraging behavior and decision making, but also how cognition shapes pollination and plant fitness. Floral visitors sometimes depart from what we think of as typical pollinator behavior and instead exploit floral resources by robbing nectar (bypassing the floral opening and instead consuming nectar through holes or perforations made in floral tissue). The impacts of nectar robbing on plant fitness are well-studied; however, there is considerably less understanding, from the animal’s perspective, about the cognitive processes underlying nectar robbing. Examining nectar robbing from the standpoint of animal cognition is important for understanding the evolution of this behavior and its ecological and evolutionary consequences. In this review, we draw on central concepts of foraging ecology and animal cognition to consider nectar robbing behavior either when individuals use robbing as their only foraging strategy or when they switch between robbing and legitimate foraging. We discuss sensory and cognitive biases, learning, and the role of a variable environment in making decisions about robbing vs. foraging legitimately. We also discuss ways in which an understanding of the cognitive processes involved in nectar robbing can address questions about how plant-robber interactions affect patterns of natural selection and floral evolution. We conclude by highlighting future research directions on the sensory and cognitive ecology of nectar robbing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number698137
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Oct 15 2021


  • cognition
  • foraging
  • nectar robbing
  • plant reproduction
  • pollination
  • sensory ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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