Foraging strategy of wasps – optimisation of intake rate or energetic efficiency? [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Helmut Kovac, Anton Stabentheiner, and Robert Brodschneider

In endothermic wasps, foraging is an expensive activity. To maximise the benefit for the colony, wasps can optimise either the intake rate or energetic efficiency of a foraging trip. We investigated the foraging behaviour of vespine wasps under variable environmental and reward conditions. We trained them to forage for 0.5 mol l–1 sucrose solution from an artificial flower in a flow-through respiratory measurement chamber, and simultaneously measured their body temperature using infrared thermography to investigate interactions between thermoregulation and energetics. Measurement of carbon dioxide release (for energetic calculations) and load mass enabled the direct determination of foraging efficiency. An unlimited reward increased the wasps’ energetic effort to increase the suction speed through high body temperatures. With reduced reward (limited flow), when an increased body temperature could not increase suction speed, the wasps decreased their body temperature to reduce the metabolic effort. Solar heat gain was used differently, either to increase body temperature without additional metabolic effort or to save energy. The foraging efficiency was mainly determined by the flow rate, ambient temperature and solar heat gain. In shade, an unlimited sucrose flow and a high ambient temperature yielded the highest energetic benefit. A limited flow reduced foraging efficiency in the shade, but only partly in sunshine. Solar radiation boosted the efficiency at all reward rates. Wasps responded flexibly to varying reward conditions by maximising intake rate at unlimited flow and switching to the optimisation of foraging efficiency when the intake rate could not be enhanced due to a limited flow rate.

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