9 - Vision and learning in some neglected pollinators: beetles, flies, moths, and butterflies  pp. 171-190

Vision and learning in some neglected pollinators: beetles, flies, moths, and butterflies

By Martha R. Weiss

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Ask a member of the general public what kinds of insects pollinate flowers and chances are she'll say bees. Certainly hymenopterans pollinate a tremendous variety of plant taxa, and honeybees and bumble bees in particular are economically important and visible pollinators (McGregor 1976; Buchmann & Nabhan 1996; Proctor et al. 1996). However, studies of social bees have long dominated academic and applied pollination arenas (Lindauer 1963; von Frisch 1967; Menzel 1967), to the relative neglect of other taxa. Insects in three major orders, Coleoptera, Diptera, and Lepidoptera, are key pollinators of a broad range of angiosperm taxa (Kevan & Baker 1983; Proctor et al. 1996), but in comparison with bees, much less is known about their effectiveness as pollinators, or about the sensory attributes and learning abilities that guide their behaviors. This lack of study has several causes, including the lesser importance of non-hymenopteran insects as pollinators of crop plants (notwithstanding their role in pollination of mangos, cacao, papayas, parsnips, pomegranates, carrots, and onions; McGregor 1976), their relative infrequency as major pollinators in European and North American systems (Johnson & Steiner 2000), and the difficulty in raising and studying solitary rather than social insects.

Further study of these neglected pollinators will help us to understand the breadth and diversity of insect sensory systems and learning abilities.