No evidence that reproductive bumblebee workers reduce the production of new queens

Carlos Lopez-Vaamonde, J. Will Koning, William C. Jordan, Andrew F. G. Bourke

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Kin selection theory predicts potential conflict between queen and workers over male parentage in hymenopteran societies headed by one, singly mated queen, because each party is more closely related to its own male offspring. In ‘late-switching’ colonies of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris, i.e. colonies whose queens lay haploid eggs relatively late in the colony cycle, workers start to lay male eggs shortly after the queen lays the female eggs that will develop into new queens. It has been hypothesized that this occurs because workers recognize, via a signal given by the queen instructing female larvae to commence development as queens, that egg laying is now in their kin-selected interest. This hypothesis assumes that aggressive behaviour in egg-laying workers does not substantially reduce the production of new queens, which would decrease the workers' fitness payoff from producing males. We tested the hypothesis that reproductive activity inB. terrestris workers does not reduce the production of new queens. We used microsatellite genotyping to sex eggs and hence to select eight size-matched pairs of ‘late-switching’ colonies from a set of commercial colonies. From one colony of each pair we removed every egg-laying or aggressive worker observed. From the other colony, we simultaneously removed a nonegg-laying, nonaggressive worker. Removed workers were replaced with young workers from separate colonies at equal frequencies within the pair. There was no significant difference in queen productivity between colonies with reduced or normal levels of egg-laying or aggressive workers. Therefore, as predicted, reproductive B. terrestris workers did not significantly reduce the production of new queens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-584
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2003

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