Estimating resource preferences of a native bumblebee: the effects of availability and use–availability models on preference estimates

Alexandra N. Harmon-Threatt, Perry de Valpine, Claire Kremen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying resource preference is considered essential for developing targeted conservation plans but, for many species, questions remain about the best way to estimate preference. Resource preferences for bees are particularly difficult to determine as the resources they collect, nectar and pollen, are challenging to estimate availability and collection. Resources are traditionally measured at the flower or inflorescence level, but these measures of availability do not correspond to the resources actually used by bees. Additionally, it is unclear as to whether common models including availability are appropriate for bees which may target resources regardless of available quantities. Here we first compare two common hypotheses of resource use – the ‘random use hypothesis’ and the ‘linear preferences hypothesis’ – using three different measures of availability (pollen, flower and inflorescence) – to determine if one measure of availability was better for understanding bee pollen use. Next, the superior model using availability was compared to a novel model of bee pollen use the ‘target use hypothesis’. This model assumes that bees target some resources regardless of how much of each resource is available (but assuming resources are present at a site), and thus models preference without availability data. Of the models including availability, the linear preference model using inflorescence availability best explained the pollen use data. This suggests that bumblebee pollen use is non-random and that cues to identify and locate resources (i.e. display size and quantity) may be more important than the quantity of the resource available (i.e. pollen availability). Additionally, in most cases the target use model explained the data equal to or better than the other models suggesting bee resource use may be better modeled without measured availability data compared to linear models. These results could be important for expanding resource use analysis of bees that are difficult to quantify availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-641
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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