Effects of climate on intra- and interspecific size variation in bumble-bees

Authors

  • J. PEAT,

    1. Biodiversity and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences Building, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK
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  • B. DARVILL,

    1. Biodiversity and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences Building, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK
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  • J. ELLIS,

    1. Biodiversity and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences Building, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK
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  • D. GOULSON

    Corresponding author
    1. Biodiversity and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences Building, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK
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†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: DG3@soton.ac.uk

Summary

  • 1In contrast to other social bees, bumble-bees exhibit considerable size variation within the worker caste. This size variation has not been adequately explained, although it is known that larger workers tend to be foragers and smaller bees spend more time in the nest. We quantify size variation and mean size for foragers of 22 bumble-bee species inhabiting climates ranging from arctic and montane to the lowland tropics.
  • 2Mean size was larger in bee species from cold climates compared with temperate bumble-bees. Within species, individuals from Scotland tended to be larger than those from southern England. However, tropical bumble-bees (mostly belonging to the subgenus Fervidobombus) were largest of all. We suggest that although a lower limit to size may be imposed by inhabiting cold climates, overheating does not constrain large size in bumble-bees from hot climates, perhaps because they have efficient mechanisms for heat loss through shunting heat to their extremities.
  • 3Tropical bees had shorter thoracic setae than species from cooler climates, while B. terrestris from Greece had shorter setae than those from southern UK. Presumably shorter setae enhance heat loss in warm climates.
  • 4Larger workers of B. terrestris were found to have smaller extremities, in proportion to their size, than small workers. We suggest that heat retention is more important in large bees that spend more of their time foraging, than in small bees which spend much of their time in the nest where incubation of the brood requires them to lose heat.
  • 5In the temperate climate of southern UK, we found no evidence for ambient temperature having a differential effect on activity of workers of B. terrestris according to their size. We suggest that, at least in temperate climates, size variation in bumble-bee foragers is probably not an adaptation to temperature variation. Instead it may improve colony foraging efficiency since foragers of different sizes are suited to, and tend to visit, different flower species.

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