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Oecologia

, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 42–50 | Cite as

Thermal constraints for stingless bee foragers: the importance of body size and coloration

  • J. J. M. Pereboom
  • J. C. Biesmeijer
Ecophysiology

Abstract

In the dry tropics, foraging bees face significant thermal constraints as a result of high ambient temperatures and direct insolation. In order to determine the potential importance of body size and body coloration in heat gain and heat loss, passive warm-up and cooling rates were measured for freshly killed workers of 24 stingless bee species. Results accorded with biophysical principles. Small bees reached lower temperature excesses (Texc) and warmed up and lost heat much more rapidly than larger bees. In addition to body size, body coloration had a clear effect on thermal parameters. Light-coloured bees warmed up less rapidly and had lower Texc than dark bees. An intraspecific comparison of Melipona costaricensis and Cephalotrigona capitata colour morphs confirmed that body coloration influences thermal characteristics. This study is the first to indicate that abdominal coloration in stingless bees might be involved in the regulation of body temperature in extreme thermal conditions. However, body temperatures of foraging bees of colour morphs were not very different. This is probably due to behavioural adaptations (e.g. foraging strategies) or differences in convective and evaporative heat loss or the production of metabolic heat during flight, that all mask the effect of body colour. Notwithstanding such effects and potential thermoregulatory capabilities, stingless bees show niche differentiation and biogeographic distributions that correlate with body coloration and body size. This also suggests that, in general, light bees have an advantage over black bees in hot open lowland habitats, whereas black bees might have an advantage in wet habitats and mountains. The origin, occurrence and function of flavinism (yellow integument colouring) are discussed.

Keywords

Thermoregulation Melanism Niche partitioning Biogeography Flavinism 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Nydia, Luis Alberto and family for their friendship and hospitality, and Miguel Soto of ARBOFILIA for allowing us to use his bees. We would also like to thank Marie José Duchateau for loans of equipment, David Roubik, Jorge Lobo, and Dirk Jan Ronhaar for information on stingless bee biogeography, and one anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoological Society of LondonInstitute of ZoologyLondonUK
  2. 2.Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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