Pollinator individuality when does it matter

I have always regretted that I did not mark the bees by attaching bits of cotton wool or eiderdown to them with rubber, because this would have made it much easier to follow their paths.

Charles Darwin, cited by Freeman (1968)

The symposium that stimulated this book arose from the editors' conviction that botanists interested in biotic pollination would benefit from a consideration of recent research on the behavior and the sensory capabilities of flower-visiting animals. We hoped to offer perspectives that would correct misapprehensions, enrich future work, and open new questions. In this chapter, we continue in this evangelistic vein by indulging in longstanding personal interests in the individuality of pollinating animals. Ignoring the uniqueness of individuals will invite regrets like those expressed by Darwin in reviewing his work on the flight patterns of male bumble bees. Although he investigated this question for several years, Darwin never published his observations. Might he have considered his failure to mark the bees a fatal flaw?

Our goals are to outline some of the insights that are made possible by treating pollinators as individuals, and to show possible pitfalls of not doing so. Some well-known conclusions regarding pollinator physiology and behavior can be given alternative interpretations by invoking individuality. We hope that this chapter will stimulate more systematic approaches to pollinator individuality.

There are many relevant axes along which individual pollinators may vary, including gross behavioral aspects such as foraging-site preferences, food-plant preferences, and numerous aspects of foraging style (including sampling effort, level of flower constancy, giving-up thresholds, etc.).

These in turn may be underlain by variation in basic neurophysiological processes such as learning ability (speed, capacity, and duration), sensitivity to interference, efficiency at detecting flowers, etc. There are also multiple causes for observed variations in foraging behavior. These can be genetic, learning-related, age-dependent, or induced by parasites. In what follows, we are mostly concerned with cases where neglecting pollinator individuality may lead to erroneous conclusions.

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