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Flower constancy in insect pollinators: Adaptive foraging behaviour or cognitive limitation?
Communicative and Integrative Biology
As first noted by Aristotle in honeybee workers, many insect pollinators show a preference to visit flowers of just one species during a foraging trip. This "flower constancy" probably benefits plants, because pollen is more likely to be deposited on conspecific stigmas. But it is less clear why insects should ignore rewarding alternative flowers. Many researchers have argued that flower constancy is caused by constraints imposed by insect nervous systems rather than because flower constancy is itself an efficient foraging method. We argue that this view is unsatisfactory because it both fails to explain why foragers flexibly adjust the degree of flower constancy and does not explain why foragers of closely related species show different degrees of constancy. While limitations of the nervous system exist and are likely to influence flower constancy to some degree, the observed behavioural flexibility suggests that flower constancy is a successful foraging strategy given the insect's own information about different foraging options.
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