Brood insurance via protogyny: a source of female-biased sex allocation

Nicholas J. Bull, Michael P. Schwarz


Sex allocation patterns and colony productivity are examined in Exoneura nigrescens, a social allodapine bee. As for previous studies on Australian allodapine bees, numerical sex ratios were strongly female biased in the smallest broods, but neared equality in larger broods. Local fitness enhancement has been suggested previously to explain female–biased allocation in allodapine bees. Here, we propose an alternative model, the ‘insurance model’, which predicts protogyny and, as a consequence, female–biased sex allocation in small broods with decreasing bias in larger broods. Because allodapine broods are reared progressively in an open burrow, broods require that adult females be present throughout their development in order to survive to maturity. If mothers invest in daughters (alloparents) first, these daughters can rear younger, dependent brood in cases in which orphaning occurs. If such daughters behave as surrogate mothers, then investment in them by mothers should not be regarded as investment in female sex allocation per se, giving rise to apparently female–biased broods. The model predicts a pattern of sex ratios as a function of total brood size that very closely match empirical data from E. nigrescens