Behavioural environments and niche construction: the evolution of dim-light foraging in bees


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Most bees forage for floral resources during the day, but temporal patterns of foraging activity vary extensively, and foraging in dim-light environments has evolved repeatedly. Facultative dim-light foraging behaviour is known in five of nine families of bees, while obligate behaviour is known in four families and evolved independently at least 19 times. The light intensity under which bees forage varies by a factor of 108, and therefore the evolution of dim-light foraging represents the invasion of a new, extreme niche. The repeated evolution of dim-light foraging behaviour in bees allows tests of the hypothesis that behaviour acts as an evolutionary pacemaker. With the exception of one species of Apis, facultative dim-light foragers show no external structural traits that are thought to enable visually mediated flight behaviour in low-light environments. By contrast, most obligate dim-light foragers show a suite of convergent optical traits such as enlarged ocelli and compound eyes. In one intensively studied species (Megalopta genalis) these optical changes are associated with neurobiological changes to enhance photon capture. The available ecological evidence suggests that an escape from competition for pollen and nectar resources and avoidance of natural enemies are driving factors in the evolution of obligate dim-light foraging.