Fitness consequences of ecological constraints and implications for the evolution of sociality in an incipiently social bee

Sandra Rehan, Michael Schwarz, Miriam Richards

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    30 Citations (Scopus)


    Ecological constraints such as resource limitation, unfavourable weather conditions, and parasite pressure have long been considered some of the most important selective pressures for the evolution of sociality. In the present study, we assess the fitness consequences of these three ecological factors on reproductive success of solitary nests and social colonies in the socially polymorphic small carpenter bee, Ceratina australensis, based on 982 nests collected over four reproductive periods. Nest site limitation was predicted to decrease opportunities for independent nest initiation and increase the frequency of social nesting. Nest sites were not limiting in this species and the frequency of social nesting was consistent across the four brood-rearing periods studied. Unfavourable weather was predicted to lower the frequency of female dispersal from their natal nests and to limit the brood-rearing season; this would increase the frequency and fitness of social colonies. Daily temperature and precipitation accumulation varied between seasons but were not correlated with reproductive success in this bee. Increased parasite pressure is predicted to increase the frequency and fitness of social colonies because solitary bees must leave the nest unattended during foraging bouts and are less able to defend the nest against parasites. Severe parasitism by a chalcid wasp (Eurytoma sp.) resulted in low reproductive success and total nest failure in solitary nests. Social colonies had higher reproductive success and were never extirpated by parasites. The high frequency of solitary nests suggests that this is the optimal strategy. However, social colonies have a selective advantage over solitary nesting females during periods of extreme parasite pressure, and we suggest that social nesting represents a form of bet-hedging against unpredictable fluctuations in parasite number.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)57-67
    Number of pages11
    JournalBiological Journal of The Linnean Society
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - May 2011


    • Parasite pressure
    • Polymorphism
    • Resource limitation
    • Small carpenter
    • Temporal variation


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