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Phenotypic integration in an extended phenotype: among‐individual variation in nest‐building traits of the alfalfa leafcutting bee (Megachile rotundata)

Royauté, Raphaël, Wilson, Elisabeth S., Helm, Bryan R., Mallinger, Rachel E., Prasifka, Jarrad, Greenlee, Kendra J., Bowsher, Julia H.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2018 v.31 no.7 pp. 944-956
Megachile rotundata, energy, leaves, nests, phenotype, plasticity, pollinators, reproduction, solitary bees
Structures such as nests and burrows are an essential component of many organisms’ life‐cycle and require a complex sequence of behaviours. Because behaviours can vary consistently among individuals and be correlated with one another, we hypothesized that these structures would (1) show evidence of among‐individual variation, (2) be organized into distinct functional modules and (3) show evidence of trade‐offs among functional modules due to limits on energy budgets. We tested these hypotheses using the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, a solitary bee and important crop pollinator. Megachile rotundata constructs complex nests by gathering leaf materials to form a linear series of cells in pre‐existing cavities. In this study, we examined variation in the following nest construction traits: reproduction (number of cells per nest and nest length), nest protection (cap length and number of leaves per cap), cell construction (cell size and number of leaves per cell) and cell provisioning (cell mass) from 60 nests. We found a general decline in investment in cell construction and provisioning with each new cell built. In addition, we found evidence for both repeatability and plasticity in cell provisioning with little evidence for trade‐offs among traits. Instead, most traits were positively, albeit weakly, correlated (r ~ 0.15), and traits were loosely organized into covarying modules. Our results show that individual differences in nest construction are detectable at a level similar to that of other behavioural traits and that these traits are only weakly integrated. This suggests that nest components are capable of independent evolutionary trajectories.