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Behavior and Phenology of a Specialist Bee (Dieunomia) and Sunflower (Helianthus) Pollen Availability

Minckley, Robert L., Wcislo, William T., Yanega, Douglas, Buchmann, Stephen L.
Ecology 1994 v.75 no.5 pp. 1406-1419
Apoidea, Helianthus annuus, egg production, eggs, evolution, females, flowering, flowers, foraging, nesting, nesting sites, nests, phenology, pollen, reproductive performance, reproductive success, solitary bees, variance, Kansas
The phenological relationships between nesting behavior of a specialist, solitary bee, Dieunomia triangulifera, and the flowering of its primary pollen source, Helianthus annuus, were studied for 3 yr at a site in northeastern Kansas, which contained between 50 000 and >150 000 nests. Activity patterns of D. triangulifera are closely synchronized with pollen availability on nearby sunflower plants in three ways: (1) each year, D. triangulifera became active within days of the beginning of the local sunflower bloom, and the emergence schedule of the entire population at the nest site was timed such that all females had constructed nests and were collecting pollen at peak bloom; (2) over a season the greatest numbers of provisioning females were active at peak bloom, when pollen was most abundant; and (3) over the day, females made more trips, each of which took less time when pollen was most abundant on nearby flowers than when it was scarce. Between seasons, female reproductive success varied positively with the availability of H. annuus pollen. When pollen was abundant, and the population at the nest site was low, °3 times more cells were provisioned than the following year when the bee population was high and pollen abundance declined. Furthermore, 20 pollen—collecting bee species (10 specialists and 10 generalists), besides D. triangulifera, used an estimated 68% of the available sunflower pollen at this site. These data suggest that resource limitation is important in shaping patterns of provisioning behavior in D. triangulifera. Other behaviors presumably related to reproductive success were variable and suggest resources were not limiting: (1) all females did not forage on each day, even at peak bloom; (2) variance in both trip durations and the numbers of trips made per day was large; and (3) females produced far fewer eggs in their lifetime than apparently possible. We suggest that the apparently conflicting evidence for resource limitation may be explained by a physiological limit on the rate of egg production; in such a case, the effects of resource limitation, while clearly important, might not be the primary factor limiting reproductive output. Female D. triangulifera benefit by being synchronized with their resource. Daily and seasonal synchrony enable females to collect a greater amount of pollen during shorter foraging trips. The translates into higher mean reproductive success and, at the population level, allows more females to be supported by the pollen produced from nearby plants. In short, those females that are synchronized with the sunflower bloom effectively increase their own resource availability. This phenomenon may be general, especially in short—lived organisms, i.e ., the evolution of specialization may be associated with fitness benefits based on synchrony with a preferred food source.