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Data from: Petals and leaves: quantifying the use of nest building materials by the world’s most valuable solitary bee


Cecala, Jacob; Wilson Rankin, Erin (2021), Data from: Petals and leaves: quantifying the use of nest building materials by the world’s most valuable solitary bee, Dryad, Dataset,


The alfalfa leafcutter bee (“ALCB”, Megachile rotundata) is a solitary, cavity-nesting bee native to Eurasia, managed as an agricultural pollinator of alfalfa and several other crops in North America since the 1940s (Pitts-Singer and Cane 2011). The most intensively managed and economically valuable solitary bee worldwide, it serves as a model organism for studying solitary bee biology (Pitts-Singer and Cane 2011). Understanding this species’ nesting behavior is critical to its propagation for commercial pollination services. As its common name suggests, female ALCBs construct their nests in above-ground holes using carefully clipped pieces of leaves (Pitts-Singer and Cane 2011).


At University of California, Riverside (33.965 °N, 117.341 °W), we erected 16 mesh field cages (5.8 m3), each of which contained a fixed ratio of five plant species in 2-L pots (Appendix S1: Table S1), totaling 30 pots per cage: alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and the California-native ornamentals Baileya multiradiata (desert marigold; Fig. 1A), Sphaeralcea ambigua (desert mallow; Fig. 1B), Erigeron glaucus (seaside daisy), and Phacelia tanacetifolia (tansy phacelia). Foraging ALCBs visited all five plant species for pollen and/or nectar. In each cage, we supplied a nesting block (Fig. 1C; face 23 cm x 15 cm; height: 1 m) filled with 60 paper straws (diameter 5 mm, length 12.7 cm), facing southeast. In mid-June 2019 and 2020, we introduced 20 female and 50 male ALCBs to each cage. After six weeks, all straws were collected, stored at 5 °C, then dissected the following spring. We recorded all cells constructed in each nest (straw), the contents of each cell (presence of brood), and the material(s) used to construct each cell. Leaves and petals from all five plant species were identifiable by color and trichome morphology.

Usage Notes

Descriptions of variables are provided in the first tab (metadata) of the Excel file. Each row in the dataset represents a single cell in a nest/straw constructed by a nesting female alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata). N = 170 cells.


Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Award: 2019-67011-29512

California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers