Nesting aggregation as a predictor of brood parasitism in mason bees (Osmia spp.).
Parasitism can be an important source of mortality for insect populations; however, we know little about the factors influencing vulnerability of wild bees to parasites. Mason bees (genus Osmia; Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) are important pollinators of crops and wild plants and are vulnerable to attack by brood parasites. High nest densities may increase rates of brood parasitism by attracting disproportionate numbers of parasites. Three years of field observations from multiple sites were analysed to assess whether mason bee brood parasitism increased with host density. Mason bees were allowed to nest in artificial nesting blocks and establish natural variation in nesting density. Nest cells constructed by bees were checked for the presence of parasite eggs. Parasitism of nest cells strongly increased with the number of actively nesting bees at a nesting block. Mason bees showed no preference for nesting in blocks that were occupied or unoccupied by other mason bees. Parasitism also increased with the number of days a nest was provisioned and decreased over the course of the season. Nest cells constructed last in a nest were significantly more parasitised than inner cells, despite being sealed against invasions. These findings show positively density-dependent parasitism in mason bees. They also suggest that bees terminate parasitised nests, causing parasitised cells to become outermost nest cells - a behaviour that may represent a defence against parasites. Our results have implications for the management of mason bees as agricultural pollinators, as cultivating them at high densities could reduce offspring survival.