Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 98–104 | Cite as

Chemical Profiles of Body Surfaces and Nests from Six Bornean Stingless Bee Species

  • Sara Diana LeonhardtEmail author
  • Nico Blüthgen
  • Thomas Schmitt


Stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini) are the most diverse group of Apid bees and represent common pollinators in tropical ecosystems. Like honeybees they live in large eusocial colonies and rely on complex chemical recognition and communication systems. In contrast to honeybees, their ecology and especially their chemical ecology have received only little attention, particularly in the Old World. We previously have analyzed the chemical profiles of six paleotropical stingless bee species from Borneo and revealed the presence of species-specific cuticular terpenes— an environmentally derived compound class so far unique among social insects. Here, we compared the bees’ surface profiles to the chemistry of their nest material. Terpenes, alkanes, and alkenes were the dominant compound groups on both body surfaces and nest material. However, bee profiles and nests strongly differed in their chemical composition. Body surfaces thus did not merely mirror nests, rendering a passive compound transfer from nests to bees unlikely. The difference between nests and bees was particularly pronounced when all resin-derived compounds (terpenes) were excluded and only genetically determined compounds were considered. When terpenes were included, bee profiles and nest material still differed, because whole groups of terpenes (e.g., sesquiterpenes) were found in nest material of some species, but missing in their chemical profile, indicating that bees are able to influence the terpene composition both in their nests and on their surfaces.

Key Words

Stingless bees Meliponines Cuticular profile Wax chemistry Resin Terpenes 



We are grateful to the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) for giving us permission to perform research in Malaysia, and the Royal Society for their help with planning and conducting field work in Borneo. Dr. Chey Vun Khen and Dr. Arthur Chung (Forestry Research Centre, Sandakan) kindly supported this project. The comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. SDL was supported by a grant of the German Excellence Initiative to the Graduate School of Life Science, University of Würzburg, and NB and TS by the Sonderforschungsbereich SFB 554 (Mechanisms and Evolution of Arthropod Behaviour) of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Diana Leonhardt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nico Blüthgen
    • 1
  • Thomas Schmitt
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical BiologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Animal EcologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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