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Comparison of social and solitary nesting carpenter bees in sympatry reveals no advantage to social nesting

Prager, Sean M.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 2014 v.113 no.4 pp. 998-1010
Xylocopa virginica, carpenter bees, environmental factors, females, foraging, nesting, nests, parasitism, sympatry, Ontario
Facultatively social bees allow for comparisons of social and solitary behaviour under similar environmental conditions. When such bees are polymorphic within the same population it provides a special and somewhat unusual opportunity to examine factors leading to cooperative (social) behaviours where many parameters such as environment are not variable. Some species of bees in the genus Xylocopa offers such opportunities. Studies of these bees often point to guarding and resource limitation as factors leading to social nesting. The large carpenter bee Xylocopa virginica L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae) is one species that exhibits both solitary and social nesting behaviour within the same populations. This paper first compares social and solitary nests in an Ontario population of X. virginica to determine if there is a reproductive advantage to social nesting. Following this, a series of possible explanations for social nesting, and the roles of females in social nests are examined. Social nests have similar brood sizes to solitary nests and productivity as a function of colony size is reduced with increasing number of foundresses. Additional foundresses are not effective guards, do not prevent parasitism, do not likely perform significant work, and do not assume foraging with the loss of a primary foundress.