Submitted to: Oecologia
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 14, 2010
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Through their foraging infidelity, foragers of generalist bees, such as honey bees, are known to move pollen between closely-related flowering species or varieties of flowering plants. Their foraging behaviors have implications for endangered species conservation, gene flow out of genetically engineered crops, and fruit/seed production of crops that require outcrossing between varieties. It was hypothesized that bee species that specialize on a few related floral hosts might be more discriminating in their foraging among these hosts. An experimental study with two such species of Osmia bees foraging at two native, hybridizing balsamroots showed that females foraged indiscriminately between the similar-looking flowers of these two floral hosts, and are thus no different from generalist bees in their impact as agents of hybridization.
Technical Abstract: Even generalist pollinators are typically taxonomic specialists during individual foraging bouts. Such floral constancy restricts pollen flow, and thereby gene flow, between otherwise inter-fertile flowering species, thus serving as an ethological mating barrier. Among incipient species, however, floral traits may have diverged little. In these cases, foraging infidelity by generalist pollinators (honey bees, bumblebees, hummingbirds) is known to facilitate hybridization. Many species of solitary bees are taxonomic specialists for pollen, however. Foragers of such oligolectic bees might be more discriminating connoisseurs when choosing among their limited set of floral hosts. If so, they would contribute to positive assortative mating and host plant speciation. Using randomized mixed arrays of flowers of two sympatric Balsamorhiza species, it was found that female pollen foragers of two species of oligolectic Osmia bees preferred the larger flowered B. macrophylla, but showed no floral constancy whatsoever during individual foraging bouts. In a naturally-spaced array of bouquets, these bees frequently moved fluorescent dye particles (as pollen surrogates) between flowers of these two balsamroot species. Foraging infidelity by these oligolectic bees will contribute to introgression and hybridization where interfertile species of Balsamorhiza meet and flower together.