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Impact of helpers on colony productivity in a primitively eusocial bee
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Small societies of totipotent individuals are good systems in which to study the costs and benefits of group living that are central to the origin and maintenance of eusociality. For instance, in eusocial halictid bees, some females remain in their natal nest to help rear the next brood. Why do helpers stay in the nest? Do they really help, and if yes, is their contribution large enough to voluntarily forfeit direct reproduction? Here, we estimate the impact of helpers on colony survival and productivity in the sweat bee Halictus scabiosae. The number of helpers was positively associated with colony survival and productivity. Colonies from which we experimentally removed one helper produced significantly fewer offspring. However, the effect of helper removal was very small, on average. From the removal experiment, we estimated that one helper increased colony productivity by 0.72 additional offspring in colonies with one to three helpers, while the increase was smaller and not statistically significant in larger colonies. We conclude that helpers do actually help in this primitively eusocial bee, particularly in small colonies. However, the resulting increase in colony productivity is low, which suggests that helpers may be constrained in their role or may attempt to reproduce.
Social evolution, Cooperative breeding, Altruism, Eusociality, Halictid bees
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