The alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata (Fabricius), is used to pollinate alfalfa, Medicago sativa L., for seed production in the United States and Canada. It is difficult to reliably sustain commercial M. rotundata populations in the United States because of problems with disease, parasites, predators, and unexplained mortality. One possible explanation for early immature mortality is that, relative to floral availability, superfluous numbers of bees are released in alfalfa fields where resources quickly become limited. Our objective was to determine how M. rotundata density affects bee nesting, pollination efficiency, and reproductive success. Various numbers of bees were released into enclosures on an alfalfa field, but only 10–90% of released female bees established nests. Therefore, a “bee density index” was derived for each enclosure from the number of established females and number of open flowers over time. As the density index increased, significant reductions occurred in the number of pollinated flowers, number of nests, and number of cells produced per bee, as well as the percentage of cells that produced viable prepupae by summer's end and the percentage that produced adult bees. The percentage of cells resulting in early brood mortality (i.e., pollen balls) significantly increased as the density index increased. We conclude that bee nest establishment, pollination efficiency, and reproductive success are compromised when bee densities are high relative to floral resource availability. Open field studies are needed to determine commercial bee densities that result in sustainable bee populations and adequate pollination for profitable alfalfa seed production.
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