Insect-plant relationships

Top-down effects on plant-pollinator interactions

Tom Reader and Francis Gilbert

Tom Reader and Francis Gilbert, in collaboration with Andy Higginson and many students on the behavioural ecology field course, have been studying the effects of predation on foraging behaviour in bees. We have found that crab spiders (Araneae: Thomosidae) have a significant influence on the likelihood that honeybees (Apis mellifera) will visit habitat patches and individual flowers. Bees are able to detect spiders even when they cannot see them, suggesting that olfactory interactions between spiders and bees can impact on plant pollination. Honeybee responses to increases in predation risk do simply involve avoidance of risky flowers or patches. We have shown that bees become more "fussy" about the quality of the flowers that they visit when they perceive that they are at risk. Modelling work by Andy Higginson has shown that this is likely to be a result of a general trade-off between energy intake and mortality.