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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Honey robbing: could human changes to the environment transform a rare foraging tactic into a maladaptive behavior?

  • Author(s): Rittschof, Clare C
  • Nieh, James C
  • et al.

Human environmental modifications have outpaced honey bees' ability to evolve adaptive regulation of foraging tactics, possibly including a tactic associated with extreme food shortage, honey robbing. Honey robbing is a high risk, high reward, and understudied honey bee tactic whereby workers attack and often kill neighboring colonies to steal honey. Humans have exacerbated the conditions that provoke such robbing and its consequences. We describe robbing as an individual-level and colony-level behavioral syndrome, implicating worker bees specialized for foraging, food processing, and defense. We discuss how colony signaling mechanisms could regulate this syndrome and then explore the ecological underpinnings of robbing-highlighting its unusual prevalence in the commonly managed Apis mellifera and outlining the conditions that provoke robbing. We advocate for studies that identify the cues that modulate this robbing syndrome. Additionally, studies that apply behavioral ecology modeling approaches to generate testable predictions about robbing could clarify basic bee biology and have practical implications for colony management.

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