Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 331–340 | Cite as

Foundress polyphenism and the origins of eusociality in a facultatively eusocial sweat bee, Megalopta genalis (Halictidae)

  • Karen M. Kapheim
  • Adam R. Smith
  • Peter Nonacs
  • William T. Wcislo
  • Robert K. Wayne
Original Paper


The reproductive (queen) and nonreproductive (worker) castes of eusocial insect colonies are a classic example of insect polyphenism. A complementary polyphenism may also exist entirely among females in the reproductive caste. Although less studied, reproductive females may vary in behavior based on size-associated attributes leading to the production of daughter workers. We studied a bee with flexible social behavior, Megalopta genalis, to better understand the potential of this polyphenism to shape the social organization of bee colonies and, by extension, its role in the evolution of eusociality. Our experimental design reduced variation among nest foundresses in life history variables that could influence reproductive decisions, such as nesting quality and early adulthood experience. Within our study population, approximately one third of M. genalis nests were eusocial and the remaining nests never produced workers. Though they do not differ in survival, nest-founding females who do not attempt to produce workers (which we refer to as the solitary phenotype) are significantly smaller and become reproductive later than females who attempt to recruit workers (the social phenotype). Females with the social phenotype are more likely to produce additional broods but at a cost of having some of their first offspring become nonreproductive workers. The likelihood of eusocial organization varies with body size across females of the social phenotype. Thus, fitness consequences associated with size-based plasticity in foundress behavior has colony level effects on eusociality. The potential for size-based polyphenisms among reproductive females may be an important factor to consider in the evolutionary origins of eusociality.


Alternative reproductive behavior Facultative eusociality Maternal manipulation Social evolution Polyphenism 



KMK was supported by a short-term fellowship from STRI, a 10-week and pre-doctoral fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution, a Holmes O. Miller grant and a George Bartholomew fellowship from UCLA EEB, a Joan Wright Goodman award from American Women in Science, a GAANN fellowship from the US Department of Education, a graduate mentor fellowship from the UCLA graduate division, a graduate fellowship from the Center for Society and Genetics, and an NSF doctoral dissertation improvement grant. KMK and PN were also supported by NSF grant IOS-0642085. ARS was supported by grant COL 06-030 from the Secretaria Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT) of Panama to WTW and ARS, a fellowship to ARS from the NSF International Research Fellowship Program, and a Smithsonian Institution post-doctoral fellowship. STRI provided additional support through general research funds to WTW. We would like to thank Margarita Lopez-Uribe, Michael Reiser, Ricardo Cossio, Dyana La Rosa, Julian Medina Gutierrez, Sandra Bernal, Damien Ramirez Garcia, and Tim Alvey for the assistance in the field. Oris Acevedo, Belkys Jimenez, and Orelis Arosemena and the rest of the STRI staff provided valuable logistic support. Research on BCI was conducted with permission from the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente under permit # SEX/A-34-09, in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Panama. We are thankful to Greg Grether, Torrey Rodgers, Simon Tierney, and Smadar Gilboa for the helpful comments on the manuscript. Earlier drafts of this manuscript were greatly improved by suggestions from Andrew Bourke and two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (PDF 231 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen M. Kapheim
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Adam R. Smith
    • 2
    • 4
  • Peter Nonacs
    • 1
  • William T. Wcislo
    • 2
  • Robert K. Wayne
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  3. 3.Department of EntomologyInstitute for Genomic BiologyUrbanaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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