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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Giant Asian honeybees use olfactory eavesdropping to detect and avoid ant predators

  • Author(s): Li, J
  • Wang, Z
  • Tan, K
  • Qu, Y
  • Nieh, JC
  • et al.

© 2014 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Pollinators provide a key ecosystem service that can be influenced by predation and predator avoidance. However, it was unclear whether pollinators can avoid predators by eavesdropping, intercepting predator signals. Using a natural species assemblage, we show that a bee can eavesdrop on and avoid the trail pheromone of a sympatric ant, while foraging on a native plant. The giant Asian honeybee, Apis dorsata, avoided Calliandra haematocephala inflorescences with live weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina. Although few foraging bees were attacked, ants killed the bee in almost a third of attacks. Ant presence alone significantly reduced bee floral visits. Bees showed nearly equal avoidance of live ants and trail pheromone extracts, demonstrating that olfactory eavesdropping alone can elicit full avoidance. We then used GC-MS to analyse compounds deposited by ants walking and laying trail pheromone. The most abundant compounds were all trail pheromone components. However, bees did not avoid the most abundant and conspicuous trail pheromone compound, heneicosane. Foragers may instead detect a mixture of different trail pheromone compounds. Our results contribute to a growing understanding of how public information about predators and competitors can shape food webs, and show that pollinators can tap into the private signals of predators and use this information to their advantage.

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