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Colony disturbance and solitary nest initiation by workers in the obligately eusocial sweat bee, Halictus ligatus

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Sweat bees are one of the most socially polymorphic lineages on the planet. In obligately eusocial species, newly enclosed females may become either queens or workers, depending on the environmental and social circumstances of the nest into which they emerge. In socially polymorphic species, females also have the option of nesting solitarily, founding a nest and raising future reproductives alone, without the help of other adult females. Halictus ligatus is a widespread Nearctic, ground-nesting sweat bee. It has been particularly well studied in Ontario, where detailed studies have described it as obligately eusocial. Here we report evidence that the flexibility of female H. ligatus actually extends to expressing behaviour more typical of socially polymorphic species, those in which some individuals reproduce solitarily. In a population in southern Ontario, black wasps (Astata sp.) emerged from the soil beneath the nesting aggregation and proceeded to excavate their own nesting tunnels, dislocating many H. ligatus nest entrances. Young workers whose natal nests were destroyed by the wasp activity constructed new nests, so under very specific circumstances, it is possible for potential altruists to nest solitarily.

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Special thanks to Karmi Oxman for the illustrations in Fig. 1. This work was supported by NSERC scholarships to SMR and NSERC Discovery grants to MHR.

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Correspondence to S. M. Rehan.

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Rehan, S.M., Rotella, A., Onuferko, T.M. et al. Colony disturbance and solitary nest initiation by workers in the obligately eusocial sweat bee, Halictus ligatus . Insect. Soc. 60, 389–392 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-013-0304-8

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  • Aberrant behaviour
  • Social polymorphism
  • Facultatively social
  • Worker polyphenism
  • Queen mortality
  • Worker reproduction