Strategic exploitation in a socially parasitic bee: a benefit in waiting?

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Abstract

Social parasitism has evolved at least ten times in the allodapine bees but studies that explore the parasite's integration and exploitation of host colonies are lacking. Using colony content and dissection data, we examine how Inquilina schwarzi affects the social organisation of its host Exoneura robusta. Our samples include three critical periods in the host life cycle: initial formation of dominance hierarchies in late autumn, commencement of oviposition by host queens in late winter, and development of secondary reproductives in late spring. I. schwarzi preferentially parasitises larger host colonies in autumn, but during autumn and winter, the parasite appears to be socially invisible, living in the nest without disrupting the normal functioning of these colonies. Inquilines begin egg laying much later than their hosts, and by late spring, they have disrupted host reproductive hierarchies, leading to lower skew in ovarian sizes of their host nestmates. Living invisibly within the host nest for the first 6 months and waiting until well after host reproduction has begun before disrupting their social organisation appear to be unique among social insects. Such a change in strategy may be facilitated by the different social systems found in allodapine bees, with the social parasites possibly disrupting the reproductive hierarchies during spring to prevent or reduce the normal dispersal of some host females from their natal nests.

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