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Parental care and sexual size dimorphism in wasps and bees

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 06:33 authored by Gavin Shreeves, Jeremy Field
Sexual size dimorphism, in which one sex is larger than the other, occurs when body size has differential effects on the fitness of males and females. Mammals and birds usually have male-biased size dimorphism, probably because of strong sexual competition among males. Invertebrates usually have female-biased size dimorphism, perhaps because their inflexible exoskeletons limit ovary size, leading to a strong correlation between female body size and fecundity. In this paper, we test whether an additional factor, the type of parental care provided, affects the degree of sexual size dimorphism. Among wasps and bees, there is a contrast between provisioning taxa, in which females must gather and transport heavy loads of provisions to nests they have constructed, and non-provisioning taxa, in which females lay eggs but do not construct nests or transport provisions. Males have no role in parental care in either case. An analysis of British wasps and bees shows that provisioning taxa have significantly more female-biased size dimorphism than non-provisioning taxa. This is true for simple cross-species comparisons and after controlling for phylogeny. Our data imply that the demands of carrying provision loads are at least part of the explanation for this pattern. Thus, sexual size dimorphism is greatest in pompilid wasps, which carry the heaviest prey items. Bees, which transport minute pollen grains, exhibit the least dimorphism. We also find that cavity-nesting species, in which nest construction costs may be minimized, exhibit reduced dimorphism, but this was not significant after controlling for phylogeny.


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  • Published


Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology




Springer Verlag





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  • Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Publications

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