Leafcutter bees have earned their name due to their unique habit of cutting circular portions of leaves, which they then use to construct their nests. Interestingly, researchers have now discovered that these bees show a preference for leaves that host a common mold called Aspergillus. This mold seems to contribute to the well-being and survival of leafcutter bees, which are important pollinators in North America.
A recent study conducted by the University of Arizona revealed this intriguing behavior. Lead researcher Victoria Luizzi, along with her advisors Judith Bronstein and Betsy Arnold, noticed that leafcutter bees exhibited distinct preferences for certain leaves while collecting materials for their nests. These preferences led them to explore the microbial communities present on these leaves.
The study found that leaves harboring Aspergillus were more likely to be chosen by the bees for their nest-building. In fact, when additional Aspergillus was introduced to leaves, the bees were more attracted to them. Further experiments indicated that Aspergillus could potentially protect leafcutter bees from a harmful fungus called Ascosphaera, which causes a disease called chalkbrood.
This discovery adds a new dimension to our understanding of plant-insect interactions. It highlights the role of microorganisms like Aspergillus in influencing the behavior of both plants and insects. This study suggests that the presence of such fungi on leaves can significantly impact whether the leaves are chosen for nesting by the bees or not.
The findings also emphasize the importance of studying leafcutter bees, particularly due to their vital role in agricultural pollination and the need for conserving native bee populations. As researchers delve deeper into the nesting habits and preferences of these bees, they contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationships between plants, insects, and microorganisms.