Body size allometry impacts flight-related morphology and metabolic rates in the solitary bee Megachile rotundata

Courtney C. Grula, Joseph P Rinehart, Kendra J Greenlee, Julia H Bowsher

Journal of Insect Science, Volume 133, August–September 2021

Abstract

Body size is related to many aspects of life history, including foraging distance and pollination efficiency. In solitary bees, manipulating the amount of larval diet produces intraspecific differences in adult body size. The goal of this study was to determine how body size impacts metabolic rates, allometry, and flight-related morphometrics in the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata. By restricting or providing excess food, we produced a range of body sizes, which allowed us to test the effect of body size on allometry, the power required for flight, and amount of energy produced, as measured indirectly through CO2 emission. The power required during flight was predicted using the flight biomechanical formulas for wing loading and excess power index. We found larger bees had higher absolute metabolic rates at rest and during flight, but smaller bees had higher mass-specific metabolic rates at rest. During flight, bees did not have size-related differences in mass-specific metabolic rate. As bees increase in size, their thorax and abdomens become disproportionately larger, while their wings (area, and length) become disproportionately smaller. Smaller bees had more power available during flight as demonstrated by flight biomechanical formulas. Smaller body size was advantageous because of a reduced power requirement for flight with no metabolic cost.

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