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Experimental disruption of social structure reveals totipotency in the orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma


Saleh, Nicholas (2022), Experimental disruption of social structure reveals totipotency in the orchid bee, Euglossa dilemma, Dryad, Dataset,


Eusociality has evolved multiple times across the insect phylogeny. Social insects with greater levels of social complexity tend to exhibit specialized castes with low levels of individual phenotypic plasticity. In contrast, species with simple social groups may consist of totipotent individuals that transition among behavioral and reproductive states. However, recent work has shown that in simple social groups, there can still be constraint on individual plasticity, caused by differences in maternal nourishment or  social interaction. It is not well understood how these constraints arise, ultimately leading to the evolution of nonreproductive workers. Some species of orchid bees form social groups of a dominant and 1-2 subordinate helpers where all individuals are reproductive. Females can also disperse to start their own nest as a solitary foundress, which includes a nonreproductive phase, characterized by ovary inactivation, not typically expressed by subordinates. Little is known about individual flexibility across these trajectories. Here, using the orchid bee Euglossa dilemma, we assess the plasticity of subordinate helpers, finding that they are capable of the same behavioral, physiological, transcriptomic, and chemical changes seen in foundresses. Our results suggest that the lack of nonreproductive workers in E. dilemma is not due to a lack of subordinate plasticity.


Data consist of ovary size measurements, gene expression data, and cuticular hydrocarbon data from the orchid bee Euglossa dilemma. In addition, the accompanying R Code will guide analysis based on the .csv files.

Usage Notes

For general analysis, see the README_START_HERE.txt file for additional details about the .csv files.


National Science Foundation, Award: PRFB 2109456