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Keywords:

  • evolutionary constraint;
  • Hoplitis;
  • oligolecty;
  • phylogeny;
  • pollen collection;
  • pollination

Bees are extraordinarily diverse with respect to host plant choice and adaptation. Recent findings suggest that bee host range might be largely governed by evolutionary constraints related to pollen digestion or flower recognition and handling. In the present study, we applied phylogenetic inference to investigate whether such constraints underlie host plant choice in bees of the Annosmia-Hoplitis group (Megachilidae) and to what extent these bees have evolved specialized adaptations for pollen collection. We demonstrate that most pollen specialist species exclusively exploit either Boraginaceae or Fabaceae, whereas all pollen generalists harvest pollen from both Boraginaceae and Fabaceae. The counterintuitive affinity towards these two plant families, which are neither closely related nor share similar flower morphologies, demonstrates that pollen host choice is considerably constrained in this group of bees. We hypothesize that this Boraginaceae-Fabaceae paradox might be the result of (1) similar secondary metabolites in the pollen of both families; (2) metabolites that can be detoxified by the same physiological tools; or (3) similar pollen nutrient composition. Contrary to the widely held belief that specialized adaptations for pollen collection are rare among bees, such adaptations are common in the Annosmia-Hoplitis bees, where they have evolved several times independently to exploit flowers of widely different morphologies. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ●●, ●●–●●.