A study in Biological Reviews led by researchers from the Institute of ecology and environmental sciences – Paris, the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity and the Center for Ecology and Conservation Sciences makes the synthesis of published knowledge on Mullerian mimicry in aculeate wasps and bees. It argues that aculeates may be one of the most diverse groups of mimetic organisms and that the diversity of their mimetic interactions is currently underexplored.
Many bees and stinging wasps, or aculeates, exhibit striking colour patterns or conspicuous coloration, such as black and yellow stripes. Such coloration is often interpreted as an aposematic signal advertising aculeate defences: the venomous sting. Aposematism can lead to Müllerian mimicry, the convergence of signals among different species unpalatable to predators.
Müllerian mimicry has been extensively studied, notably on Neotropical butterflies and poison frogs. However, although a very high number of aculeate species harbour putative aposematic signals, aculeates are under-represented in mimicry studies.
Here, we review the literature on mimicry rings that include bee and stinging wasp species. We report over a hundred described mimicry rings, involving a thousand species that belong to 19 aculeate families. These mimicry rings are found all throughout the world. Most importantly, we identify remaining knowledge gaps and unanswered questions related to the study of Müllerian mimicry in aculeates. Some of these questions are specific to aculeate models, such as the impact of sociality and of sexual dimorphism in defence levels on mimicry dynamics.
This review shows that aculeates may be one of the most diverse groups of organisms engaging in Müllerian mimicry and that the diversity of aculeate Müllerian mimetic interactions is currently under-explored. Thus, aculeates represent a new and major model system to study the evolution of Müllerian mimicry.
Finally, aculeates are important pollinators and the global decline of pollinating insects raises considerable concern. In this context, a better understanding of the impact of Müllerian mimicry on aculeate communities may help design strategies for pollinator conservation, thereby providing future directions for evolutionary research.
Chatelain, P., Elias, M., Fontaine, C., Villemant, C., Dajoz, I. and Perrard, A. (2023), Müllerian mimicry among bees and wasps: a review of current knowledge and future avenues of research. Biol Rev. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12955