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Annu Rev Entomol. 2011;56:221-37. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-120709-144836.

The alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata: the world's most intensively managed solitary bee.

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USDA ARS Bee Biology & Systematics Laboratory, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322, USA.


The alfalfa leafcutting bee (ALCB), Megachile rotundata F. (Megachildae), was accidentally introduced into the United States by the 1940s. Nest management of this Eurasian nonsocial 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 affordable, mass-produced nesting materials; alfalfa pollination efficacy; and emergence synchrony with alfalfa bloom. The ALCB became a commercial success because much of its natural history was understood, targeted research was pursued, and producer ingenuity was encouraged. The ALCB presents a model system for commercializing other solitary bees and for advancing new testable hypotheses in diverse biological disciplines.

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