Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 163–172 | Cite as

Frequency of social nesting in the sweat bee Megalopta genalis (Halictidae) does not vary across a rainfall gradient, despite disparity in brood production and body size

Research Article


Local environmental conditions can facilitate or preclude the development of eusocial colonies in insects that facultatively express behavioural-caste polyphenism. To explore how environmental variability relates to the expression of social behaviour, we collected 120 nests of the facultatively social sweat bee, Megalopta genalis (Halictidae: Augochlorini), along a nearly twofold rainfall gradient in central Panama. Brood rearing activity of bees in seasonal neotropical forests should track flowering phenologies, which are typically set by rainfall and phylogenetic patterns. Nests were collected at roughly similar times of year from three sites comprising wet, moist and dry lowland tropical forests. There were significant differences in ovarian development, brood production and body size across sites for some comparisons, but no effect on the proportion of social colonies collected at each site. Results show that phenotypes of M. genalis relevant to social behaviour (ovarian development, brood production, body size) may be responsive to variation in local environment over distances of <20 km.


Social evolution Seasonality Rainfall gradient Eusocial behaviour Augochlorini 



We thank P. Galgani and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) support staff for logistical help, O. Acevedo, D. Roubik, staff of the Sierra Llorona Lodge and the administration of the Parque Natural Metropolitano facilitated access to field sites. We gratefully acknowledge R. Condit for the use of STRI’s long-term database and S. Dennis for advice on R. The manuscript was further improved by suggestions from M. Schwarz, B. Turner, M.J. West-Eberhard and two anonymous reviewers. Research was supported by STRI Earl S. Tupper Postdoctoral Fellowship to SMT; a SI Restricted Endowment Grant to WTW, SMT and KMK; a STRI-Butler University Internship to CNF; a STRI Short Term Fellowship to SMR. We are grateful to the Autoridad National del Medioambiente of the Republic of Panama for research permit no. SEX/A-34-09.

Supplementary material

40_2012_280_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (792 kb)
Supplementary material (PDF 791 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanamaRepublic of Panama
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Entomology and Institute for Genomic BiologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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