Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Previously Published Works bannerUC San Diego

Olfactory eavesdropping between two competing stingless bee species


Foragers can improve search efficiency, and ultimately fitness, by using social information: cues and signals produced by other animals that indicate food location or quality. Social information use has been well studied in predator-prey systems, but its functioning within a trophic level remains poorly understood. Eavesdropping, use of signals by unintended recipients, is of particular interest because eavesdroppers may exert selective pressure on signaling systems. We provide the most complete study to date of eavesdropping between two competing social insect species by determining the glandular source and composition of a recruitment pheromone, and by examining reciprocal heterospecific responses to this signal. We tested eavesdropping between Trigona hyalinata and Trigona spinipes, two stingless bee species that compete for floral resources, exhibit a clear dominance hierarchy and recruit nestmates to high-quality food sources via pheromone trails. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry of T. hyalinata recruitment pheromone revealed six carboxylic esters, the most common of which is octyl octanoate, the major component of T. spinipes recruitment pheromone. We demonstrate heterospecific detection of recruitment pheromones, which can influence heterospecific and conspecific scout orientation. Unexpectedly, the dominant T. hyalinata avoided T. spinipes pheromone in preference tests, while the subordinate T. spinipes showed neither attraction to nor avoidance of T. hyalinata pheromone. We suggest that stingless bees may seek to avoid conflict through their eavesdropping behavior, incorporating expected costs associated with a choice into the decision-making process. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00265-010-1080-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View