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A novel social polymorphism in a primitively eusocial bee

  • Miriam H. Richards
  • Eric J. von Wettberg
  • Amy C. Rutgers
National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
May 30, 2003
  • Ecology


Halictine sweat bees (Hymenoptera, Halictidae) are model organisms for the evolution of altruism, reproductive castes, and eusocial colony organization. Halictine social behavior is not only extremely variable, but also ecologically and evolutionarily labile. Among social species, colony social organization ranges from communal societies of egalitarian females to eusocial and semisocial ones with reproductive queens and more or less sterile workers. A striking aspect of halictine social variation is the mutual exclusivity of communal and eusocial types of colony social organization within the same species, these two types of social behavior being characteristic of different genera and subgenera. We report a recently discovered exception to this rule in a population of Halictus sexcinctus (Fabricius) at Daimonia-Pyla in southern Greece, that contained both communal and eusocial colonies. Moreover, communal and eusocial females exhibit morphological differences that imply a preimaginal developmental switch, which could also underlie the two types of social behavior. That the communal and eusocial forms are not merely cryptic sister species with different social behavior is indicated by the comparison of mitochondrial DNA sequences of two sections of cytochrome oxidase I, which indicate that Greek specimens of both social types are more similar than they are to conspecifics from elsewhere in Europe. The phylogenetic position of Halictus sexcinctus suggests that this unusual communal/eusocial polymorphism may represent an unstable intermediate step in an evolutionary reversal from eusocial to solitary behavior.

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