Pusceddu, Michelina and Floris, Ignazio and Buffa, Franco and Salaris, Emanuele and Satta, Alberto (2017) Agonistic interactions between the honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) and the European wasp (Vespula germanica) reveal context-dependent defense strategies. PLoS One, Vol. 12 (7), e0180278. ISSN 1932-6203. Article.
Predator–prey relationships between sympatric species allow the evolution of defense behaviors, such as honeybee colonies defending their nests against predatory wasps. We investigated the predator–prey relationship between the honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) and the European wasp (Vespula germanica) by evaluating the effectiveness of attack and defense behaviors, which have coevolved in these sympatric species, as well as the actual damage and disturbance caused to the colonies under attack. Attack and defense behaviors were recorded in front of the hive to observe attacks at the hive entrance (68 attacks in 279 h) and at ground level on isolated and weakened honeybees close to the hive (465 attacks in 32 h). We found that V. germanica attacked the hive entrance infrequently due to the low success rate of this strategy and instead preferred a specialized attack method targeting adult honeybees at ground level, demonstrating opportunistic scavenger behavior. Individual honeybees usually responded effectively to an attack by recruiting an average of two nestmates, causing the wasp to flee, whereas collective balling behavior was only observed on four occasions. V. germanica does not appear to disrupt the foraging activity of the colonies under attack. We found that agonistic events supported by other nestmates were typically the most intense ones, involving physical combat and prolonged attacks at the entrance to the hive. These observations support the hypothesis that A. mellifera ligustica can adapt its behavior to match the severity of the threat and the context of the attack.
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