Although variation in body size has been recently reported in stingless bees (Meliponini), empirical evidence evaluating possible factors related to such variation is lacking, and thus it is not clear if it may have an adaptive significance. We evaluated if variation in the body size and weight of workers of stingless bees fluctuates across a seasonal pattern and if this could be related to characteristics of the food consumed during the larval stage. The weight of larval provisions, their protein, and sugar content were evaluated in four colonies of Nannotrigona perilampoides every 2 months across 1 year. Worker-destined larvae from the same combs were allowed to develop and were sampled as callow workers to determine their weight and size using morphometric data. The weight and size of workers were highly correlated and varied across the seasons in established colonies, suggesting that size variation cycles across the year in stingless bees. An increase in the protein content and, to a lesser degree, the quantity of larval food were positively linked to variation in body weight and size; food with richer protein content resulted in larger and heavier workers. This study provides the first evidence of an effect of the quantity and composition of larval food on the size of workers in stingless bees. Although body weight and size of workers differed across seasons, they were not readily noticeable as changes seem to occur as a continuum across the year. Since size polymorphism was of a larger magnitude across time but not within age cohorts and as it was highly determined by food resources, it may not be an adaptive feature in stingless bees. However, more studies are needed to determine the role of the cyclical change in worker body size on colony performance and thus its adaptive significance in stingless bees.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics