How pollinators, such as bees, exploit plant resources is a fundamental question in biology, with deep ecological, economical and societal consequences.
When foraging, bees transfer pollen between flowers and mediate the reproduction of plants on which most animals rely on. Despite thousands of years of domestication and a century of research on bee navigation, how bees move, interact and compete for plant resources in the field remains a mystery. This is mainly due to the technical difficulty to monitor the behaviour of these small and fast flying insects when foraging sometimes across several kilometres in the field.
We address this critical question with behavioural experiments and computational modelling. Recently, we developed automated tracking systems (radars, videos) and mathematical tools (network analyses) to run new kinds of experiments with populations of bees in semi field setups in which we manipulate the spatial distribution and the nutritional quality of foods, the competition pressure, as well as the presence of environmental stressors. From these data, we build and test behavioural models to explore the cognitive processes that may underpin the complex spatial patterns exhibited by bees.
We hope that the detailed understanding of bee movements in ecologically relevant conditions will give major insight about how they influence and how we may save the pollination service.
Funding: ANR POLLINET, ANR-DFG 3DNaviBee, ANR-TERC BEE-MOVE