Kinematic flexibility allows bumblebees to increase energetic efficiency when carrying heavy loads

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Science Advances  05 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 6, eaay3115
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay3115


Foraging bees fly with heavy loads of nectar and pollen, incurring energetic costs that are typically assumed to depend on load size. Insects can produce more force by increasing stroke amplitude and/or flapping frequency, but the kinematic response of a given species is thought to be consistent. We examined bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) carrying both light and heavy loads and found that stroke amplitude increased in proportion to load size, but did not predict metabolic rate. Rather, metabolic rate was strongly tied to frequency, which was determined not by load size but by the bee’s average loading state and loading history, with heavily loaded bees displaying smaller changes in frequency and smaller increases in metabolic rate to support additional loading. This implies that bees can increase force production through alternative mechanisms; yet, they often choose the energetically costly option of elevating frequency, suggesting associated performance benefits that merit further investigation.

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