- The removal of pollen by flower-visiting insects is costly to plants, not only in terms of production, but also via lost reproductive potential. Modern angiosperms have evolved various reward strategies to limit these costs, yet many plant species still offer pollen as a sole or major reward for pollinating insects.
- The benefits plants gain by offering pollen as a reward for pollinating are defined by the behaviour of their pollinators, some of which feed on the pollen at the flower, while others collect pollen to provision offspring.
- We explore how pollen impacts on the behaviour and foraging decisions of pollen-collecting bees, drawing comparisons with what is known for nectar rewards. This question is of particular interest since foraging bees typically do not eat pollen during collection, meaning the sensory pathways involved in evaluating this resource are not immediately obvious.
- Previous research has focussed on whether foraging bees can determine the quality of pollen sources offered by different plant species, and attempted to infer the mechanisms underpinning such evaluations, mainly through observations of collection preferences in the field
- More recently experimental research has started to ask whether pollen itself can mediate the detection of, and learning about, pollen sources and associated floral cues.
- We review advancements in the understanding of how bees forage for pollen and respond to variation in pollen quality, and discuss future directions for studying how this ancestral floral food reward shapes the behaviour of pollinating insects.
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