What do foraging wasps optimize in a variable environment, energy investment or body temperature?

Abstract

Vespine wasps (Vespula sp.) are endowed with a pronounced ability of endothermic heat production. To show how they balance energetics and thermoregulation under variable environmental conditions, we measured the body temperature and respiration of sucrose foragers (1.5 M, unlimited flow) under variable ambient temperature (T a = 20–35 °C) and solar radiation (20–570 W m−2). Results revealed a graduated balancing of metabolic efforts with thermoregulatory needs. The thoracic temperature in the shade depended on ambient temperature, increasing from ~37 to 39 °C. However, wasps used solar heat gain to regulate their thorax temperature at a rather high level at low T a (mean T thorax ~ 39 °C). Only at high T a they used solar heat to reduce their metabolic rate remarkably. A high body temperature accelerated the suction speed and shortened foraging time. As the costs of foraging strongly depended on duration, the efficiency could be significantly increased with a high body temperature. Heat gain from solar radiation enabled the wasps to enhance foraging efficiency at high ambient temperature (T a = 30 °C) by up to 63 %. The well-balanced change of economic strategies in response to environmental conditions minimized costs of foraging and optimized energetic efficiency.

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