Playing with extremes: Origins and evolution of exaggerated female forelegs in South African Rediviva bees

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2017 Oct:115:95-105. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2017.07.025. Epub 2017 Jul 27.


Despite close ecological interactions between plants and their pollinators, only some highly specialised pollinators adapt to a specific host plant trait by evolving a bizarre morphology. Here we investigated the evolution of extremely elongated forelegs in females of the South African bee genus Rediviva (Hymenoptera: Melittidae), in which long forelegs are hypothesised to be an adaptation for collecting oils from the extended spurs of their Diascia host flowers. We first reconstructed the phylogeny of the genus Rediviva using seven genes and inferred an origin of Rediviva at around 29MYA (95% HPD=19.2-40.5), concurrent with the origin and radiation of the Succulent Karoo flora. The common ancestor of Rediviva was inferred to be a short-legged species that did not visit Diascia. Interestingly, all our analyses strongly supported at least two independent origins of long legs within Rediviva. Leg length was not correlated with any variable we tested (ecological specialisation, Diascia visitation, geographic distribution, pilosity type) but seems to have evolved very rapidly. Overall, our results indicate that foreleg length is an evolutionary highly labile, rapidly evolving trait that might enable Rediviva bees to respond quickly to changing floral resource availability.

Keywords: Ecological adaptation; Greater cape floristic region; Melittidae; Molecular phylogenetics; Plant-pollinator interaction; Trait evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / classification*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / classification
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Female
  • Hindlimb / anatomy & histology
  • Hindlimb / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA Polymerase II / classification
  • RNA Polymerase II / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 28S / classification
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 28S / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 28S
  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • RNA Polymerase II