Matters of Size: Behavioral, Morphological, and Physiological Performance Scaling Among Stingless Bees (Meliponini)
Body size plays a pervasive role in determining physiological and behavioral performance across animals. It is generally thought that smaller animals are limited in performance measures compared to larger animals; yet, the vast majority of animals on earth are small and evolutionary trends like miniaturization occur in every animal clade. Therefore, there must be some evolutionary advantages to being small and/or compensatory mechanisms that allow small animals to compete with larger species. In this dissertation I specifically explore the scaling of flight performance (flight metabolic rate, wing beat frequency, load-carrying capacity) and learning behaviors (visual differentiation visual Y-maze learning) across stingless bee species that vary by three orders of magnitude in body size. I also test whether eye morphology and calculated visual acuity match visual differentiation and learning abilities using honeybees and stingless bees. In order to determine what morphological and physiological factors contribute to scaling of these performance parameters I measure the scaling of head, thorax, and abdomen mass, wing size, brain size, and eye size. I find that small stingless bee species are not limited in visual learning compared to larger species, and even have some energetic advantages in flight. These insights are essential to understanding how small size evolved repeatedly in all animal clades and why it persists. Finally, I test flight performance across stingless bee species while varying temperature in accordance with thermal changes that are predicted with climate change. I find that thermal performance curves varied greatly among species, that smaller species conform closely to air temperature, and that larger bees may be better equipped to cope with rising temperatures due to more frequent exposure to high temperatures. This information may help us predict whether small or large species might fare better in future thermal climate conditions, and which body-size related traits might be expected to evolve.