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Amino Acid Preferences in Bumble Bees
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Bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) forage for nectar and pollen alike, however, little is known as to whether bees sense the nutritive value of different pollens. Pollen is a major source of protein for bumble bees, as they feed it to larvae and use it to make eggs (Nicolson, 2011). In comparison to honey bees (Apis meliifera), bumble bees collect pollen from more diverse plant species and return to the colony with pollen loads higher in essential amino acids (Leonhardt et al., 2012). Whether or not a bumble bee can detect these amino acids through taste and/or smell and choose pollen on this basis is unknown (Brito Sanchez et al., 2007). I asked whether bumble bees have the ability to taste/smell the difference between different amino acid solutions, specifically Glycine, Threonine, Proline, and Phenylalanine. In honey bees, research has shown that these amino acids may play an important role in nutrition, but little is known as to the importance in bumble bees. In a series of feeding choice assays, I tested these amino acids at different concentrations to determine if there was an effect on bumble bee preference at high or low concentrations. This study lays the groundwork for understanding what role gustation plays in the recent North American bumble bee declines. These declines affect pollination of agricultural crops and native plant species (Cameron et al., 2010). Thus, understanding bumble bee nutrition is important to keep their species thriving and consequently our species as well. This research will shed light on a basic aspect of bumble bee nutrition and assess whether their preferences for different quality pollens potentially contribute to their current decline.