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bees’ complex eusocial behavior hypotheses

bees' complex eusocial behavior hypotheses

Corbiculate bees—those that possess corbicula, or pollen baskets, on their hind legs—encompass honey bees, stingless bees, bumble bees, and orchid bees. Among them, honey bees and stingless bees are the only groups with highly complex social behaviors, such as forming large colonies with queens, workers, and drones. Bumble bees display less complex sociality, and orchid bees are mostly solitary. Traditional morphological analyses have long indicated that honey bees and stingless bees are most closely related and that complex social behavior developed in their common ancestor before the groups diverged (as illustrated at left). However, in the 1990s, emergent techniques in molecular genetic analysis began to show that stingless bees and bumble bees were the more closely related “sister” groups, which would mean that honey bees and stingless bees each developed their complex social behavior independently, after their ancestral paths diverged (as illustrated at right). Ever since, these different lines of evidence have persisted as a notorious case of incongruence between molecular and morphological data sets in animals. A new study published in Insect Systematics and Diversity has mounted perhaps the most intricate, detailed look ever at the morphological diversity of bees, offering new insights in this debate. The result offers strong evidence that complex social behavior developed just once in pollen-carrying bees, rather than twice or more, separately, in different evolutionary branches—but researchers say the case is far from closed. (Image by Diego Sasso Porto, Ph.D., Virginia Tech)

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