Szigeti et al.: Lifelong foraging and individual specialisation (2019)

Szigeti V, Kőrösi Á, Harnos A, Kis J
Lifelong foraging and individual specialisation are influenced by temporal changes of resource availability
Oikos 128(5): pp. 649-658

Resource availability largely determines the distribution and behaviour of organisms. In plant–pollinator communities, availability of floral resources may change so rapidly that pollinator individuals can benefit from switching between multiple resources, i.e. different flowering plant species. Insect pollinator individuals of a given generation often occur in different time windows during the reproductive season. This temporal variation in individual occurrences, together with the rapidly changing resource availability, may lead individuals of the same population to encounter and use different resources, resulting in an apparent individual specialisation. We hypothesized, that 1) individual pollinators change their resource use (flower visitation) during their lifetime according to the changing availability of floral resources, and that 2) temporal variation in individual occurrences of pollinators and in resource availability will partly explain individual specialisation. To test these hypotheses, we observed flower visitations of individually marked clouded Apollo butterflies Parnassius mnemosyne during one reproductive season. We found temporal changes in lifetime individual resource use that followed the changes in resource availability, indicating that butterflies can adjust foraging to varying resource availability. Individuals differed considerably in their resource use. This variation was partly explained by temporal variation in both floral resource availability and temporal occurrence of individual butterflies. We suggest the butterfly as a sequential specialist, i.e. short-term specialist and long-term generalist. This foraging plasticity can be essential for short-living insect pollinators in rapidly changing environments. Although flowering dynamics do not fully explain the variability in foraging, our results highlight the importance of temporal dimension in resource use studies. Ultimately, the relative pace of environmental change compared to individual lifespan may be a key factor in resource use plasticity.