Linking the foraging behavior of three bee species to pollen dispersal and gene flow

Foraging behaviors that impact gene flow can guide the design of pollinator strategies to mitigate gene flow. Reduced gene flow is expected to minimize the impact of genetically engineered (GE) crops on feral and natural populations and to facilitate the coexistence of different agricultural markets. The goal of this study is to link foraging behavior to gene flow and identify behaviors that can help predict gene flow for different bee species. To reach this goal, we first examined and compared the foraging behaviors of three distinct bee species, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera L., the common eastern bumble bee, Bombus impatiens Cr., and the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata F., foraging on Medicago sativa flowers. Each foraging behavior investigated differed among bee species. Both social bees exhibited directionality of movement and had similar residence, in contrast to the random movement and shorter residence of the solitary bee. Tripping rate and net distance traveled differed among the three bee species. We ranked each behavior among bee species and used the relative ranking as gene flow predictor before testing the predictions against empirical gene flow data. Tripping rate and net distance traveled, but not residence, predicted relative gene dispersal among bee species. Linking specific behaviors to gene flow provides mechanisms to explain differences in gene flow among bee species and guides the development of management practices to reduce gene flow. Although developed in one system, the approach developed here can be generalized to different plant/pollinator systems.