Madeleine Ostwald

and 5 more

IntroductionInferring generalizable patterns in species dynamics, distributions, and functional variation are central aims of ecology and evolutionary biology (MacArthur, 1972). Trait-based approaches, which quantify phenotypic characteristics that impact organisms’ fitness and/or functional role, provide a tractable comparative framework for understanding communities, ecosystems, and evolutionary processes (Mcgill et al., 2006; Violle et al., 2007). Functional trait studies have proliferated over the past two decades, addressing foundational questions in community ecology (Cadotte et al., 2015; Mcgill et al., 2006; Violle and Jiang, 2009), biogeography (Violle et al., 2014), and conservation biology (Cadotte et al., 2011; Wellnitz and Poff, 2001) across taxonomic groups. These works emphasize the promise of trait-based research for generating novel insights into central ecological concepts and theories.Increasingly, bee researchers are recognizing the utility of trait-based approaches for a wide variety of applications in ecological research. Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) represent more than 20,000 species worldwide and display dramatic interspecific variation in morphology and behavior (Figure 1), including traits that mediate pollination services and responses to global environmental change (Supplementary Table 1). Exploration of functional traits has long been a cornerstone of bee research, yet only recently have these traits been systematically applied in bee ecological studies as a comparative framework for understanding community-level processes. Given their major functional role as the primary animal pollinators of terrestrial ecosystems (Ollerton et al., 2011), the bees represent a group ripe for exploration through a functional ecological lens.Here, we review an emerging body of literature that quantifies functional traits across bee communities to address questions in bee ecology. In doing so, we address the following questions: How have functional traits been used to study bee ecology? What have been the major outcomes and limitations in bee functional trait research? How might this framework be leveraged to address urgent questions in the study of global bee declines? We review the variety of methods used to quantify bee trait variation, highlight common methodological problems and inconsistencies, and recommend best practices. Additionally, we describe geographic, taxonomic, and trait biases across the body of bee functional trait work, and highlight research areas that merit particular attention in future studies. Finally, we emphasize the value of open trait data sharing, and propose a roadmap toward a global bee functional trait database, including an initial aggregated dataset of 3369 morphological measurements from 1209 bee species.