Floral preferences of mountain bumble bees are constrained by functional traits but flexible through elevation and season
Sponsler, Douglas et al. (2022), Floral preferences of mountain bumble bees are constrained by functional traits but flexible through elevation and season, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.7d7wm37wp
Patterns of resource use by animals can clarify how ecological communities have assembled in the past, how they currently function, and how they are likely to respond to future perturbations. Bumble bees (Hymentoptera: Bombus spp.) and their floral hosts provide a diverse yet tractable system in which to explore resource selection in the context of plant-pollinator networks. Under conditions of resource limitation, the ability of bumble bees species to coexist should depend on dietary niche overlap. In this study, we report patterns and dynamics of floral morphotype preferences in a mountain bumble bee community based on ~13,000 observations of bumble bee floral visits recorded along a 1400 m elevation gradient. We found that bumble bees are highly selective generalists, rarely visiting floral morphotypes at the rates predicted by their relative abundances. Preferences also differed markedly across bumble bee species, and these differences were well-explained by variation in bumble bee tongue length, generating patterns of preference similarity that should be expected to predict competition under conditions of resource limitation. Within species, though, morphotype preferences varied by elevation and season, possibly representing adaptive flexibility in response to the high elevational and seasonal turnover of mountain floral communities. Patterns of resource partitioning among bumble bee communities may determine which species can coexist under the altered distributions of bumble bees and their floral hosts caused by climate and land use change.