Dynamic microbiome evolution in social bees

Sci Adv. 2017 Mar 29;3(3):e1600513. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600513. eCollection 2017 Mar.


The highly social (eusocial) corbiculate bees, comprising the honey bees, bumble bees, and stingless bees, are ubiquitous insect pollinators that fulfill critical roles in ecosystem services and human agriculture. Here, we conduct wide sampling across the phylogeny of these corbiculate bees and reveal a dynamic evolutionary history behind their microbiota, marked by multiple gains and losses of gut associates, the presence of generalist as well as host-specific strains, and patterns of diversification driven, in part, by host ecology (for example, colony size). Across four continents, we found that different host species have distinct gut communities, largely independent of geography or sympatry. Nonetheless, their microbiota has a shared heritage: The emergence of the eusocial corbiculate bees from solitary ancestors appears to coincide with the acquisition of five core gut bacterial lineages, supporting the hypothesis that host sociality facilitates the development and maintenance of specialized microbiomes.

Keywords: Microbial ecology; bumble bees; gut microbiota; honey bees; species-area relationship; stingless bees.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Species Specificity