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Ergonomic skew and reproductive queuing based on social and seasonal variation in foraging activity of eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopavirginica)

Richards, M.H., Course, C.
Canadian journal of zoology 2015 v.93 no.8 pp. 615-625
Xylocopa virginica, adults, carpenter bees, females, foraging, group size, nests, pollen, reproductive performance, seasonal variation, social structure, spring, univoltine habit
Reproductive division of labour in social carpenter bees differs from that in classically eusocial insects because reproductive output and ergonomic inputs are positively correlated—dominant females monopolize both foraging and reproduction. We quantified ergonomic skew in the facultatively social bee Xylocopa virginica (L., 1771) (eastern carpenter bee) based on detailed observations of foraging activity by individually marked females in 2009. Unusually for a univoltine bee, this species exhibits a spring foraging phase during which females feed pollen to other adults, probably as part of behavioural interactions to establish dominance hierarchies. During brood-provisioning, foraging in social nests was dominated by one female at a time, with replacement by a succession of foragers as dominants disappeared and were succeeded by a subordinate. The principal foragers (individuals that did the largest share of foraging in each colony) did 85%–100% of all pollen trips, so contributions to pollen-provisioning by female nest mates were highly uneven. Individual foraging rate was unaffected by group size and total colony foraging effort was a function of the number of foragers per group. Transient females that moved to new nests were as successful in achieving dominant forager status as females resident in their natal nests. This evidence indicates that colony social organisation is based on reproductive queues, whereby the first-ranked bee is the dominant forager and subordinates queue for opportunities to replace her.