Research Article

Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 427-448

First online:

The role of young guards inXylocopa pubescens

  • K. HogendoornAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Physiology, University of Utrecht
  • , H. H. W. VelthuisAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Physiology, University of Utrecht

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Xylocopa pubescens is a facultatively social species in which two types of guards can be found: 1) old, formerly reproductive guards and 2) young, pre-reproductive guards that usually guard the nest in which they emerged. In this species it is always the dominant female that forages and lays the eggs.

This paper focuses on the young females' reasons for guarding. Young guards are characteristically the first females of an emerging brood. They start guarding at an age of 6 days, and continue to do so for on average 10 days, when they start a dominance contest. In comparison to other emerging bees, guards did not receive any more of the incoming food. The presence of young females in the nest was sufficient to deter pollen robbers; the protection was not ameliorated by guarding. Guards did not protect the nest from usurpation by intruding females. The presence of a young guard positively influenced both the number and the duration of foraging flights.

All guards attempted to take over dominance inside the nest by fighting with the dominant female. Guards had a probability of 50% of winning this contest, which was distinctly higher than their probability of finding a nest elsewhere. The dominant female was not in all cases the mother of the guard. Therefore, the average increase of indirect fitness by guarding was lower than the expected direct fitness returns from leaving the nest earlier. We therefore conclude that guarding females are environmentally disabled, hopeful reproductives. They may be guarding to determine the right time to risk a fight about dominance and to increase their direct fitness if their attempt to supersede is successful.

Key words

Xylocopa Hymenoptera caste determination kin selection guarding behaviour