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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #252728

Title: The Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee, Megachile rotundata: The World's Most Intensively Managed Solitary Bee

item Pitts Singer, Theresa
item Cane, James

Submitted to: Annual Review of Entomology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/6/2010
Publication Date: 1/5/2011
Citation: Pitts Singer, T., Cane, J.H. 2011. The alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata: The world's most intensively managed solitary bee. Annual Review Of Entomology. 56:221-237.

Interpretive Summary: The alfalfa leafcutting bee is the world’s most economically important non-social bee. It is the primary managed and effective pollinator for seed alfalfa, which in turn produces the hay that feeds most of U.S. dairy herds. Management considerations and concepts for this non-social parallel those of honeybees, but in most ways, the actual practices are vastly different and distinctive. Success has required intimate knowledge of the bees’ life history that informed practical innovation by researchers and growers alike. In this review, we synthesized the disparate literature regarding this bee, concluding that in many, but not all ways, that management of this bee can serve as a model for commercializing other solitary bees.

Technical Abstract: The alfalfa leafcutting bee (ALCB), Megachile rotundata F. (Megachildae) was accidentally introduced to the United States in the late 1930s. Nest management of this Eurasian non-social pollinator transformed the alfalfa seed industry in North America, tripling seed production. The most common ALCB management practice is the loose cell system in which cocooned bees are removed from nesting cavities for cleaning and storage. Traits of ALCBs that favored their commercialization include: gregarious nesting, use of leaves for lining nests, ready acceptance of cheap, mass-produced nesting materials, and pollination efficacy at and emergence synchrony with alfalfa bloom. The ALCB became a commercial success because we learned its natural history, performed targeted research, and encouraged producer ingenuity. The ALCB presents a model system for commercializing other solitary bees and for advancing new testable hypotheses in diverse biological disciplines.