The spontaneous occurrence of colour preferences without learning has been demonstrated in several insect species; however, the underlying mechanisms are still not understood. Here, we use a comparative approach to investigate spontaneous and learned colour preferences in foraging bees of two tropical and one temperate species. We hypothesised that tropical bees utilise different sets of plants and therefore might differ in their spontaneous colour preferences. We tested colour-naive bees and foragers from colonies that had been enclosed in large flight cages for a long time. Bees were shortly trained with triplets of neutral, UV-grey stimuli placed randomly at eight locations on a black training disk to induce foraging motivation. During unrewarded tests, the bees’ responses to eight colours were video-recorded. Bees explored all colours and displayed an overall preference for colours dominated by long or short wavelengths, rather than a single colour stimulus. Naive Apis cerana and Bombus terrestris showed similar choices. Both inspected long-wavelength stimuli more than short-wavelength stimuli, whilst responses of the tropical stingless bee Tetragonula iridipennis differed, suggesting that resource partitioning could be a determinant of spontaneous colour preferences. Reward on an unsaturated yellow colour shifted the bees’ preference curves as predicted, which is in line with previous findings that brief colour experience overrides the expression of spontaneous preferences. We conclude that rather than determining foraging behaviour in inflexible ways, spontaneous colour preferences vary depending on experimental settings and reflect potential biases in mechanisms of learning and decision-making in pollinating insects.
Naturwissenschaften – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 2, 2018
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