More than protein? Bee-flower interactions and effects of disturbance regimes revealed by rare pollen in bee nests.
Bees and their host flower populations were studied by identifying pollen to species or genus, from trap nests where bees were reared. Rare plant species in bee diets, and disturbance regimes, have not previously been researched and are emphasized here. Two focal bee groups with one species each (Megachilidae and Apidae) were studied in a 500,000-ha tropical reserve in the Yucatán Peninsula nine complete years. The number of rare or major pollen species in nests had no statistical correlation; thus, rare pollen analysis complements study of major brood provisions. We found most nests (87% Megachile zaptlana, 93% Centris analis) contained rare pollen; only 12% of the 438 nests contained major pollen alone. Rare pollen sometimes indicated an energy source rather than a scarce protein resource. Trichome nectar of Cydista, along with Ipomoea and Caesalpinia, were nectar sources. Malpighiaceae, despite lacking nectar, often provided the complete Centris diet. Considering rare pollen, only Centris responded to drought, or competition from immigrant honeybees. Neither bee responded to hurricanes. Drought years coincided with low bee populations; Centris nests contained more rare species then. After feral Africanized honeybees colonized, Centris had more major species and fewer rare. Some herbarium vouchers from the study area contained exotic pollen, demonstrating in situ floral contamination and ecological generalization by bees, but this rarely occurred in plants found among the bee diets. Megachile and Centris responded differently to competition and resource scarcity, and plausibly evolved under different disturbance regimes, yet appeared well adapted to hurricane disturbance.