Colony foraging activity of four Melipona species (Apidae: Meliponinae, tribe Meliponini) was studied during the dry season, when many plants flower in central Panama. The efficiency of sucrose solution uptake by Melipona was compared to that of domesticated European Apis mellifera. Dynamics of nectar foraging were also recorded for 3 of the Melipona visiting the forest shrub, Hybanthusprunifolius (Violaceae). 1. Sugar concentration in nectar brought to nests aver- aged from 21 to 60% sugar for 15 colonies of M.fasciata, M. compressipes triplaridis, M. fuliginosa and M. marginata micheneri. Concentrations ranged from 19 to 72%, and all species collected nectars ranging at least between 24 and 63% sugar. However, M. compressipes and M. marginata preferred higher concentrations and foraged less on dilute nectars. Peak colony nectar harvest occured in late morning or early afternoon; peak pollen harvest was in early morn- ing. 2. Imbibing rates of bees given 20, 30, 45, 60 or 70% sucrose solutions were highest at < 45% sucrose, but caloric intake was most rapid at 60% sucrose for all species. All but M. marginata displayed greater net intake rates than domesticated European Apis mellifera. A foraging choice model incorporating caloric reward and imbibing rates of bees suggests M. compressipes and M. marginata should specialize on richer nectars. Rate of caloric intake per for- ager weight was higher for all Melipona (0.03-0.13 g) than for A. mellifera (0.10 g). 3. The nectar of Hybanthus prunifolius (Violaceae), a shrub pollinated exclusively by Melipona, progressed from 35 to 60% sugar during the day. Bees foraged most when nectar was below 60~ concentration, a pattern best ex- plained as the result of intercolony competition and greater availability of lower quality nectar. 4. Sugar concentration in nectar harvested by colonies rose from lower to higher values through the day for Meli- pona. The increasing caloric reward of nectar is adaptive in exploiting foraging preferences of such bees. As standing nectar crop is depleted by competing bees, a gradual shift to more rewarding nectar should promote increased bee foraging range, more flower visits during a foraging trip, floral constancy, and genetic outcrossing. 5. The nectar load capacity of A. mellifera is greater than that of Melipona. Other factors being equal, African- ized A. mellifera, now a permanent resident of neotropical forests, should visit more flowers during a foraging trip. Additional species differences in foraging behavior are ana- lyzed.
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