Exploitative competition for floral resources reduces sugar intake but differently impacts the foraging behaviour of two non-bee flower visitors
Jeavons, Emma et al. (2021), Exploitative competition for floral resources reduces sugar intake but differently impacts the foraging behaviour of two non-bee flower visitors, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.905qfttmp
Identifying which behavioural strategies maximize individual fitness is a key objective in ecology. Organisms are known to adapt their foraging behaviour to their environment in response to abiotic and biotic constraints, such as the distribution of resources or the presence of competitors. For instance, bees are known to avoid recently visited flowers and thus focus their foraging on more rewarding patches. Whether other flower-visiting insects adapt their foraging behaviour in response to exploitative competition for floral resources remains unknown. Here, we asked if a predatory hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) and a parasitoid (Aphidius colemani) 1) are physiologically impacted by flower resource limitation following exploitation of flowers by a competitor (either the bumblebee Bombus terrestris or E. balteatus); 2) have the ability to discriminate flowers that were previously exploited by a competitor; and 3) modify their foraging behaviour accordingly. Episyrphus balteatus and A. colemani individuals foraging on previously exploited flowers were found to be less concentrated in sugar compounds, especially in fructose and glucose, suggesting that previously exploited flowers contained less available sugars. Nevertheless, individuals did not avoid previously exploited patches in the choice experiment. On the contrary, E. balteatus females preferentially landed on inflorescences that had previously been exploited by conspecifics (but not by B. terrestris), while A. colemani did not show preferences between inflorescences. However, female hoverflies spent more time feeding on unexploited patches, suggesting that exploited patches were resource limited. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence of the use of social cues among E. balteatus individuals in food foraging strategies. It also shows that even insects with tiny nectar requirements, such as parasitoids, can suffer from heavy exploitative competition. Such results may have applied consequences for the understanding of natural enemy conservation, in particular in agroecosystems where competition with honeybees may be important.