An effective means of finding food is crucial for organisms. Whereas specialized animals select a small number of potentially available food sources, generalists use a broader range. Specialist (oligolectic) bees forage on a small range of flowering plants for pollen and use primarily olfactory and visual cues to locate their host flowers. So far, however, little is known about the specific cues oligoleges use to discriminate between hosts and non-hosts and how floral scent compounds of hosts and non-hosts are processed in the bees' olfactory system. In this study, we recorded physiological responses of the antennae (electroantennographic detection coupled to gas chromatography; GC-EAD) and in the brain (optical imaging; GC imaging), and studied host-finding behaviour of oligolectic Andrena vaga bees, a specialist on Salix plants. In total, we detected 37 physiologically active compounds in host and non-host scents. 4-Oxoisophorone, a common constituent in the scent of many Salix species, evoked strong responses in the antennal lobe glomeruli of A. vaga, but not the generalist honeybee Apis mellifera. The specific glomerular responses to 4-oxoisophorone in natural Salix scents reveals a high degree of specialization in A. vaga for this typical Salix odorant component. In behavioural experiments, we found olfactory cues to be the key attractants for A. vaga to Salix hosts, which are also used to discriminate between hosts and non-hosts, and A. vaga demonstrated a behavioural activity for 4-oxoisophorone. A high sensitivity to floral scents enables the specialized bees to effectively find flowers and it appears that A. vaga bees are highly tuned to 4-oxoisophorone at a very low concentration.

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