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Chance and adaptation in the evolution of island bumblebee behaviour

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Population Ecology


We used a population biological approach to assist our understanding of the evolution of behaviour, with island bumblebees as our model system. The widespread European species Bombus terrestris occurs on all major Mediterranean, and some Atlantic islands. Bees from different populations differ in a variety of behavioural traits, including floral colour preferences, flower detection, and learning behaviour. We attempted to correlate these behavioural differences with each population’s environment, but could not find straightforward adaptive explanations. We also performed reciprocal transplant studies to compare nectar foraging performance of bees from three different populations, but found that non-native bees consistently outcompeted native bees. Thus, we consider genetic drift, exaptation, and pleiotropy as possible alternative explanations to a strictly adaptive explanation for between population behavioural differences in bumblebees.

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The research was supported by grants Ch147/3-1 from the DFG, and NER/A/S/2003/00469 from NERC. Part of this work was performed under the auspices of the University of Würzburg, Germany. We wish to thank Parul Desai, Adrienne Gerber-Kurz, Anja Hickelsberger, Margaret Lancaster, Pritesh Patel, Tonia Schamberger, Juliette Schikora, Ronnie Singh, Johannes Spaethe and Kristina Stüber for discussions and help with the experiments, and R.B. Lotto for Fig. 1.

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Correspondence to Lars Chittka.

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Chittka, L., Ings, T.C. & Raine, N.E. Chance and adaptation in the evolution of island bumblebee behaviour. Popul Ecol 46, 243–251 (2004).

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