Altruistic bees

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Discussion by: Roedy

One one of the first discoveries about bees in the time of the ancient Greeks was that on any one flight, they confined themself to one particular species of plant. This is highly convenient for the plants.  It ensures any pollen transported between plants will be of the correct type.  You might naively think "How polite of the bees, how considerate. There is no benefit to them."

But of course abundant flowers are very important to bees, so indirectly, bees are helping themselves.

I wondered about other selfish motivations that might manifest as apparantly altruistic behaviour.

Another question tickling me is you have a chicken and egg problem with flowering plants and bees.  Each is completely dependent on the other. How did this dependence get bootstrapped?  I understand bees evolved from carnivorous wasps. Perhaps early flowing plants used wind or random insect movements.

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. I will make a guess. Plants would have had to predate insects or else insects would have nothing to eat. The original plants would have relied on wind pollination. Insects could help pollinate just by randomly walking over plants. Some insects might decide that pollen was a good food. The plants would then have reason to increase the food value of pollen grains. The plant’s goal is to reserve its pollen for a single species of insect that specialises in that plant. That way most of its activity would benefit the plant rather than take its pollen off to other species. The plant might develop features to attract one species of insect and discourage others. The bee becomes a pollen specialist. Bees develop the habit of traveling to one species at a time.

    The plant has a number of attractants, pollen, colours, shapes, perfumes. Nectar might come later as an aux attractant for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Hummingbirds and butterflies spread pollen but do not eat it.

    • As a Beekeeper it is more useful to consider the hive as the organism rather than individual bee.

      In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      One odd thing about bees, is that from a evolutionary point of view, you might consider a single hive as like a single badger, but with its very large cells tenuously connected

  2. Wind pollination certainly pre-dated other forms in early seed-bearing plants which had evolved from earlier spore-bearing plants, but insects gathering nutritious sap and pollen and spreading pollen from plant to plant would lead to many evolutionary forms.

    Once regular pollination relationships were established, co-evolution of plants and pollinators ensued.
    http://biology.clc.uc.edu/courses/bio303/coevolution.htm

    Early gymnosperms and angiosperms were wind-pollinated.

    Like modern gymnosperms, the ovule exuded droplets of sap to catch pollen grains.

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    Insects (beetles) on the plant found this protein/sugar mix and used it as food.

    Insects became dependent on this food source and started carrying pollen from plant to plant.

    Beetle-pollination must have been more efficient than wind for some species, so there was natural selection for plants that attracted insects.

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    Next to occur would have been the evolution of nectaries, nectar-secreting structures, to lure the pollinators.

    Development of white or brightly-colored, conspicuous flowers to draw attention to the nectar and/or other food sources would also have occurred.

    The carpel (female reproductive structure) was originally leaf-shaped. It became folded on itself to enclose and protect the ovule from being eaten by the pollinators (hence Angiosperms). Plants with protected ovules would have been selected over ones with ovules that got eaten.

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    By the beginning of the Cenozoic Era (65 mya), the first bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths had evolved. The significance in this is that these are insects for which flowers are often the only source of nutrition for the adults.

    From this point on, certain plant and insect species have had a profound influence on one another’s evolution. A flower that attracted specific pollinators on a regular basis had an advantage (less wasted pollen) over flowers that attracted “promiscuous” pollinators. It is also an advantage for the pollinator to have its own “private” food source because there is, thus, less competition. The varied shapes, colors, and odors of flowers allowed sensory recognition by pollinators and excluded unwanted, indiscriminate pollinators.

    Some modern insects still bumble to any flower they can gain access to, – some robbing nectar without pollination in return, but many have specialised in relationships with particular flowers.
    Honey Bees will concentrate on particular flowers in season, with scouts doing a WAGGLE-DANCE to direct workers to good nectar sites. Types of honey are related to the flowers which were the source of the nectar.

    There are also hummingbirds, bats, rodents, and even monkeys specialising as pollinators for some plants.

  3. Another false altruism would be domestication, e.g. ants cultivating aphids or humans protecting, feeding, sheltering, providing medical care animals such as cows, pigs, goats and chickens. It return they take their flesh, eggs, milk, skins,

    • In reply to #4 by Roedy:

      Another false altruism would be domestication, e.g. ants cultivating aphids or humans protecting, feeding, sheltering, providing medical care animals such as cows, pigs, goats and chickens. It return they take their flesh, eggs, milk, skins,

      Ecological relationships rarely have clearly defined boundaries between predation, parasitism, symbiosis, and altruism.

  4. (I am a serious hobby beekeeper, not an entomologist.) It should be understood that only honeybees that have this “flower fidelity”; once an individual worker starts on a certain kind of flower, that is all she will go to as long as that kind continues to bloom. Other genera of bees take whatever is close and available, regardless of what kind of flower it is they are visiting. This is one of the things that make honeybees the most valuable for pollinating crops; they don’t waste time and energy putting clover pollen on zucchini pistils. But this has to be taken into consideration when hives are moved into a field or orchard for pollination. If they are brought in before the desired crop begins to bloom, the bees may start on some other flower, dandelions for example, and when the desired crop starts to bloom, they will just continue what they started, dandelions, even if they have to fly beyond the orchard or field to find them. So beekeepers and orchardists know to wait until the trees begin to bloom before moving the hives in. Then the honeybees will stick to business.

  5. ……”I wondered about other selfish motivations that might manifest as apparantly altruistic behaviour.”…….

    Altruism is always a religious concept. I am surprised that atheistic biologists use theories standing on the ground of altruism. The basic problem is best explained with Hamilton´s rule: r*b>c where
    r = the genetic relatedness of the recipient to the actor, often defined as the probability that a gene picked randomly from each at the same locus is identical by descent.
    b = the additional reproductive benefit gained by the recipient of the altruistic act.
    c = the reproductive cost to the individual performing the act.
    As everybody will easily see the benefit is gained by the recipient while the cost is paid by the donor.

    Biologists should adopt the clear definitions of Physicists. Benefit and cost are different categories and have to be treated like volume and weight. To judge whether a material will sink, float or rise in a second material the density (weight per volume) of both materials is needed separately. As benefit and cost in biology may be very different (glucose, protein, fat, time, water, salt, light, power, length etc.) a similar treatment of the problem would be to compare the benefit to cost ratio (b/c) of one side to the benefit to cost ratio (b/c) of the other side. Hamilton´s rule would now be: r*b/c>b/c. The difference seems small but I promise the effect is surprising as benefit produced by enzymes is saturable while cost is of linear nature. The result is that eg in symbiosis the source of a substrate is selfishly giving away a costing substrate while the sink takes it as an earning substrate – selfishly. However, the outcome for the ensemble of both will be superadditive.

    • In reply to #7 by —
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      ……”I wondered about other selfish motivations that might manifest as apparantly altruistic behaviour.”…….

      Altruism is always a religious concept. I am surprised that atheistic biologists use theories standing on the ground of altruism.

      I made a reference to Kin selection and “The Selfish Gene” P93,
      here on this earlier discussion. http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/5/29/for-atheists-all-religion-is-superstition#comment-box-34

      (The Selfish Gene page 93). – “Now we are in a position to talk about genes for kin-altruism much more precisely. A gene for suicidally saving five cousins would not become come more numerous in the population, but a gene for saving five brothers, or ten first cousins would. The minimum requirements for a suicidal altruistic gene to be successful is that it should save more than two siblings (or children or parents) or more than 4 half siblings (uncles, aunts nephews, nieces, grandparents, grand-children).”

      There is clearly evolutionary survival potential in altruistically saving duplicate or multiple copies of our own genes. It is well illustrated by worker bees preserving copies of their genes in their queen and in her eggs.

      • …“survival potential in altruistically saving multiple copies of our own genes.”..
        Basically we have the same opinion. My problem is the wording – the use of “altruistically”.
        Altruism:
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
        Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others. …..
        Life History Theory tells us that organisms may invest eg a fixed lifetime budget in different targets (self, offspring, something else). Leaf-cutter ants invest a lot of effort in feeding a fungus – genetically related to the ants quite distant. They also invest to feed the offspring carrying (partially) their own genes. Both investments pay. Both investments are selfish. To invest in own muscles is a short term investment (own genes 100%). To invest in offspring is a long term investment (50% or more own genes). To invest in a food source is reasonable and selfish.
        I am sensitive to the usage of “Altruism” as explanation because I observe an intensive effort of a religious motivated individual in conjunction with a very wealthy religious and very humble foundation to drill holes into the theoretical foundation of Biology.

        • In reply to #9 by genau:

          I am sensitive to the usage of “Altruism” as explanation because I observe an intensive effort of a religious motivated individual in conjunction with a very wealthy religious and very humble foundation to drill holes into the theoretical foundation of Biology.

          We just have to make the best of it. There are often unclear or theistically vague definitions in common use, which muddy the understanding of scientific terms. “THEORY” is a classic case!

          You are probably familiar with theistic “reasoning” by way of the fallacy of semantic shifting meanings,

  6. “You are probably familiar with theistic “reasoning” by way of the fallacy of semantic shifting meanings.”
    Yes – that is the way they argue to gain and hold ground. But in this case we Biologists prepare the way using wrong and basically religious assumptions. Again: in Hamilton´s rule the assumption of comparing a benefit of one site to a cost of a second site is the basic mistake (good samaritan). Please go to u-tube. There are endless numbers of lessons by economists on benefit/cost analysis and discounting (eg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LeV98kPKFk) (Look at time 5min). That is the way it should be done in Biology. As long as we have the wrong assumptions in our theoretical framework we won´t get rid of company we do not want. Furthermore, please note that this company claims interpretive dominance with “five rules for cooperation”. Do we really want that claims like this will become part of Biology? CITATION(!): ”In my opinion, God does not only set the initial conditions for the evolutionary process, but instead lifts an entire trajectory into existence.” Finally, maybe we should no longer use the word selfishness for promotional reasons. Let us call it reasonable or economic behavior.

    • In reply to #11 by genau:

      “You are probably familiar with theistic “reasoning” by way of the fallacy of semantic shifting meanings.”
      Yes – that is the way they argue to gain and hold ground. But in this case we Biologists prepare the way using wrong and basically religious assumptions.

      Not really! Science provides its own definitions and where necessary explains the difference between those and vernacular ones.

      ”In my opinion, God does not only set the initial conditions for the evolutionary process, but instead lifts an entire trajectory into existence.

      There is no evidence to support that view. Not in cosmology, abiogenesis or in evolution.

      ” Finally, maybe we should no longer use the word selfishness for promotional reasons. Let us call it reasonable or economic behavior.

      “Selfishness” has a specific meaning in contexts such “The Selfish” Gene”. It is a key element of well proven evolutionary theory.

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