Solitary bees reduce investment in communication compared with their social relatives

Bernadette Wittwer, Abraham Hefetz, Tovit Simon, Li E.K. Murphy, Mark A. Elgar, Naomi E. Pierce, Sarah D. Kocher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Social animals must communicate to define group membership and coordinate social organization. For social insects, communication is predominantly mediated through chemical signals, and as social complexity increases, so does the requirement for a greater diversity of signals. This relationship is particularly true for advanced eusocial insects, including ants, bees, and wasps, whose chemical communication systems have been well-characterized. However, we know surprisingly little about how these communication systems evolve during the transition between solitary and group living. Here, we demonstrate that the sensory systems associated with signal perception are evolutionarily labile. In particular, we show that differences in signal production and perception are tightly associated with changes in social behavior in halictid bees. Our results suggest that social species require a greater investment in communication than their solitary counterparts and that species that have reverted from eusociality to solitary living have repeatedly reduced investment in these potentially costly sensory perception systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6569-6574
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 20 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Communication
  • Comparative methods
  • Halictid bees
  • Social behavior


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