The alfalfa leafcutting bee (Megachile rotundata (Fabricius)), a commercial pollinator used for alfalfa seed production, is susceptible to chalkbrood disease via ingested fungal spores. Diseases of insects can elicit behavioral changes in their hosts, but there are no recorded behaviors of alfalfa leafcutting bees in response to this fungal exposure. We conducted field studies to determine whether bees in pathogen-dense environments altered their nesting patterns, specifically if bees exposed to fungal spores produced higher numbers of nest cells and whether the proportions of nest cells that failed as eggs or small larvae (a state known as ‘pollen ball') were greater. We found that our control bees, nontreated bees which were not exposed to chalkbrood spores other than those in the natural environment, had the highest proportion of pollen ball cells. Bees experimentally exposed to infective spores created the lowest number of nests and the fewest cells. Bees experimentally exposed to heat killed noninfective spores produced the greatest number of nests and cells overall and the greatest number of healthy progeny. We conclude that there are underlying behaviors that are elicited in response to the presence of chalkbrood spores that reduce the proportion of failed nest cells (grooming) and increase retention of bees at nesting sites (delay of bee emergence). Through further study of these behaviors, bee managers can potentially increase the productivity of their bee populations.
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Vol. 114 • No. 3