Monday, December 10, 2007 - 8:41 AM

Distance measurement, canopy foraging, and communication in the stingless bee species Melipona panamica

Megan A. Eckles, and James Nieh, University of California, San Diego, Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0116, Muir Biology, Room 1165, La Jolla, CA

Canopy level pollination plays an important role in the ecology of tropical forests, yet the mechanisms by which pollinating insects determine canopy height to return to rewarding food is unknown. This research has provided the first steps to test if the stingless bee species Melipona panamica can use optic flow to measure food location in a high canopy. We have determined that M. panamica foragers measure horizontal distance through optic flow, a mechanism whereby visual texture is integrated to ascertain distance traveled. The question remains, however, if optic flow is also used to measure vertical position (height), a capability M. panamica foragers possess but which is poorly understood. Canopy foraging is common in this species, and they are important pollinators in the tropical forest ecosystem. Determining the mechanism M. panamica uses for vertical navigation will contribute to our overall understanding of their place in this ecological system. These results will also form the basis of future experiments manipulating optic flow to a fictive distance, thus providing direct evidence that referential communication is used by this species (which has also not been previously tested).

Species 1: Hymenoptera Apidae Melipona panamica
Species 2: Hymenoptera Apidae Bombus impatiens
Species 3: Hymenoptera Apidae Apis mellifera (honey bee)