Floral Vibrations by Buzz-pollinating Bees Achieve Higher Frequency, Velocity and Acceleration than Flight and Defence Vibrations

May 20, 2020 | Biology

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David J. Pritchard and Mario Vallejo-Marin

Vibrations play an important role in insect behaviour. In bees, vibrations are used in a variety of contexts including communication, as a warning signal to deter predators and during pollen foraging. However, little is known about how the biomechanical properties of bee vibrations vary across multiple behaviours within a species. In this study, we compared the properties of vibrations produced by Bombus terrestris audax (Hymenoptera: Apidae) workers in three contexts: during flight, during defensive buzzing, and in floral vibrations produced during pollen foraging on two buzz-pollinated plants (Solanum, Solanaceae). Using laser vibrometry, we were able to obtain contactless measures of both the frequency and amplitude of the thoracic vibrations of bees across the three behaviours. Despite all three types of vibrations being produced by the same power flight muscles, we found clear differences in the mechanical properties of the vibrations produced in different contexts. Both floral and defensive buzzes had higher frequency and amplitude velocity, acceleration, and displacement than the vibrations produced during flight. Floral vibrations had the highest frequency, amplitude velocity and acceleration of all the behaviours studied. Vibration amplitude, and in particular acceleration, of floral vibrations has been suggested as the key property for removing pollen from buzz-pollinated anthers. By increasing frequency and amplitude velocity and acceleration of their vibrations during vibratory pollen collection, foraging bees may be able to maximise pollen removal from flowers, although their foraging decisions are likely to be influenced by the presumably high cost of producing floral vibrations.. Want to read more? Read the full article in the Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) Blog.

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