1. Behavior and organization of social groups is thought to be vital to the functioning of societies, yet the contributions of various roles within social groups have been difficult to quantify. A common approach to quantifying these role-based contributions is evaluating the performance of individuals at conducting certain roles, these studies ignore how these performances might scale up to effects at the population-level. Manipulative experiments are another common approach to determine population-level effects, but they often ignore potential feedbacks associated with these various roles.
2. Here, we evaluate the effects of worker size distribution in bumblebee colonies on worker production, using functional linear models. Functional linear models are a recent correlative technique that has been used to assess lag effects of environmental drivers on plant performance. We demonstrate potential applications of this technique to explore contributions of social animals to ecological phenomenon.
3. We found that the worker size distribution differentially affected new worker production across three resource environments. Specifically, more larger workers had mostly positive effects and more smaller workers had negative effects on worker production. Most of these effects were only detected under low or fluctuating resource environments suggesting that the advantage of colonies with larger-bodied workers becomes more apparent under stressful conditions.
4. We demonstrate the wider ecological application of functional linear models. We highlight the advantages and limitations when considering these models, and how they are a valuable complement to many of these performance-based and manipulative experiments.