Tree Resin Composition, Collection Behavior and Selective Filters Shape Chemical Profiles of Tropical Bees (Apidae: Meliponini)
by Sara D. Leonhardt, Thomas Schmitt, Nico Blüthgen
The diversity of species is striking, but can be far exceeded by the chemical diversity of compounds collected, produced or used by them. Here, we relate the specificity of plant-consumer interactions to chemical diversity applying a comparative network analysis to both levels. Chemical diversity was explored for interactions between tropical stingless bees and plant resins, which bees collect for nest construction and to deter predators and microbes. Resins also function as an environmental source for terpenes that serve as appeasement allomones and protection against predators when accumulated on the bees’ body surfaces. To unravel the origin of the bees’ complex chemical profiles, we investigated resin collection and the processing of resin-derived terpenes. We therefore analyzed chemical networks of tree resins, foraging networks of resin collecting bees, and their acquired chemical networks. We revealed that 113 terpenes in nests of six bee species and 83 on their body surfaces comprised a subset of the 1,117 compounds found in resins from seven tree species. Sesquiterpenes were the most variable class of terpenes. Albeit widely present in tree resins, they were only found on the body surface of some species, but entirely lacking in others. Moreover, whereas the nest profile of Tetragonula melanocephala contained sesquiterpenes, its surface profile did not. Stingless bees showed a generalized collecting behavior among resin sources, and only a hitherto undescribed species-specific “filtering” of resin-derived terpenes can explain the variation in chemical profiles of nests and body surfaces from different species. The tight relationship between bees and tree resins of a large variety of species elucidates why the bees’ surfaces contain a much higher chemodiversity than other hymenopterans.
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