Foraging preferences of leafcutter bees in three contrasting geographical zones

Palatty Allesh Sinu, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Aim: Leafcutter bees use plants as pollen and nectar sources, but also cut leaf discs and use them to line their nests. Which plant species they choose as nesting material and why they do so have remained obscure. We asked the following: (1) How are the plant species used by leafcutter bees distributed phylogenetically? (2) Does plant choice differ across geographical regions, and if so, in what ways? (3) Are the leaf plant species natives or exotics? (4) What plant and leaf traits predict selection of plant species by leafcutter bees? And (5) Does the abundance of individuals per species in the habitat influence leafcutter bees’ plant preferences?. Location: Tropical South Asia, temperate eastern Canada and US Sonoran Desert. Methods: We mapped taxa known to be used by leafcutter bees both from our own study and published literature onto the most recent angiosperm phylogeny. To determine what plant and leaf traits predict leaf selection, we monitored 6,120 individuals of 214 native and exotic plant species planted in a 3-sq. km. arboretum in Arizona and recorded leaf damage inflicted by bees. Results: Megachile showed a strong preference for species in the rosid clade, particularly the phylogenetic cluster of Fabales, Fagales and Rosales. Thirty-two to forty-five percentage of the leaf plant species were exotic to a given region. Membership in the rosid clade and Fabaceae family predicted plant preference, whereas the plant species’ local abundance and geographical origin did not. Leaf water content, morphotype and the presence of latex were important factors influencing plant choice, whereas leaf shape and size did not. Main conclusion: These patterns point to plant groups whose availability should be monitored to assure persistence of leafcutter bees. Their preference for specific globally distributed plant clades, yet ability to readily adopt certain exotic plant species as nest resources, likely augments their ability to persist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-628
Number of pages8
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Megachile
  • Megachilidae
  • antimicrobial
  • biogeography
  • distribution
  • diversity
  • evolution
  • herbivory
  • leafcutter bee
  • pollinator
  • urban ecosystem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Foraging preferences of leafcutter bees in three contrasting geographical zones'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this