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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Foragers of sympatric Asian honey bee species intercept competitor signals by avoiding benzyl acetate from Apis cerana alarm pheromone.

  • Author(s): Wen, Ping
  • Cheng, Yanan
  • Qu, Yufeng
  • Zhang, Hongxia
  • Li, Jianjun
  • Bell, Heather
  • Tan, Ken
  • Nieh, James
  • et al.

While foraging, animals can form inter- and intraspecific social signalling networks to avoid similar predators. We report here that foragers of different native Asian honey bee species can detect and use a specialized alarm pheromone component, benzyl acetate (BA), to avoid danger. We analysed the volatile alarm pheromone produced by attacked workers of the most abundant native Asian honey bee, Apis cerana and tested the responses of other bee species to these alarm signals. As compared to nest guards, A. cerana foragers produced 3.38 fold higher levels of BA. In foragers, BA and (E)-dec-2-en-1-yl acetate (DA) generated the strongest antennal electrophysiological responses. BA was also the only compound that alerted flying foragers and inhibited A. cerana foraging. BA thereby decreased A. cerana foraging for risky sites. Interestingly, although BA occurs only in trace amounts and is nearly absent in sympatric honeybee species (respectively only 0.07% and 0.44% as much in A. dorsata and A. florea), these floral generalists detected and avoided BA as strongly as they did to their own alarm pheromone on natural inflorescences. These results demonstrate that competing pollinators can take advantage of alarm signal information provided by other species.

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