Molecular ecology and social evolution of the eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica
Vickruck, Jessica L
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Bees are extremely valuable models in both ecology and evolutionary biology. Their link to agriculture and sensitivity to climate change make them an excellent group to examine how anthropogenic disturbance can affect how genes flow through populations. In addition, many bees demonstrate behavioural flexibility, making certain species valuable models with which to study the evolution of social groups. This thesis studies the molecular ecology and social evolution of one such bee, the eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. As a generalist native pollinator that nests almost exclusively in milled lumber, anthropogenic disturbance and climate change have the power to drastically alter how genes flow through eastern carpenter bee populations. In addition, X. virginica is facultatively social and is an excellent organism to examine how species evolve from solitary to group living. Across their range of eastern North America, X. virginica appears to be structured into three main subpopulations: a northern group, a western group and a core group. Population genetic analyses suggest that the northern and potentially the western group represent recent range expansions. Climate data also suggest that summer and winter temperatures describe a significant amount of the genetic differentiation seen across their range. Taken together, this suggests that climate warming may have allowed eastern carpenter bees to expand their range northward. Despite nesting predominantly in disturbed areas, eastern carpenter bees have adapted to newly available habitat and appear to be thriving. This is in marked contrast to many other bee species, particularly in the genus Bombus, who appear unable to shift their ranges along with climate change. Facultatively social organisms are interesting species to study the evolution of social groups, and the remaining chapters address questions of sociality in X. virginica. I used observation nests and genetic relatedness to examined how females behave towards one another in the spring prior to the establishment of dominance hierarchies in social nests. In spring, females directed fewer aggressive behaviours and more cooperative behaviours towards familiar rather than related individuals, indicating that females use nestmate recognition rather that kin recognition when interacting with conspecifics. Overwintering groups often contain both related and unrelated individuals, indicating that many bees interacting with one another in the fall prior to overwintering may be unrelated, emphasizing the importance of recognizing nestmates. Within social carpenter bee nests three different types of female have been described: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary females are the dominant foragers and egg layers in the nest while secondary and tertiary females appear to join a reproductive queue behind the primary. To understand the nature and flexibility of this reproductive queue I performed removal experiments across three different years. This study showed that secondary females always assumed the role of replacement primary, while tertiary females rarely opted to forage and reproduce even if they were the only female in the nest. Removal experiments demonstrated that social groups in X. virginica are complex and comprise two different reproductive strategies (breed in the current year or delay reproduction) as well as form dominance hierarchies among primary and secondary females. Several tertiary females were able to become primary or solitary females in their second summer, providing evidence for how each type of female may have evolved in social nests. Finally, I examined how competition influences the evolution and maintenance of social groups in eastern carpenter bees. In conditions of high population density significantly more social nests were present in the population, indicating that competition for limiting nesting resources drives individuals together into social groups. Within social groups relatedness was low, and siblings actually dispersed away from one another to other nests in the population, reducing competition among kin. Eastern carpenter bees appear to demonstrate an interesting evolutionary route to sociality, where very high levels of competition among kin lead to dispersal, while limited nesting substrate forces individuals back into unrelated social groups. While predicted by kin selection, social groups of this nature are previously undescribed in the Hymenoptera, and further study of eastern carpenter bees can provide novel insights into alternate routes to sociality.