Worker reproductive parasitism and drift in the western honeybeeApis mellifera

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When a honeybee (Apis spp.) colony loses its queen and is unable to rear a new one, some of the workers activate their ovaries and produce eggs. When a colony has a queen (i.e., it is queenright) almost all worker-laid eggs are eaten, but when hopelessly queenless, the workers become more tolerant of worker-laid eggs and rear some of them to adult drones. This increased tolerance renders a queenless colony vulnerable to worker reproductive parasitism, wherein unrelated workers enter the colony and lay eggs. Here, we show that the proportion of unrelated (non-natal) workers significantly decreases after an Apis mellifera colony becomes queenless. The remaining non-natal workers are as likely to have activated ovaries as natal workers, yet they produce more eggs than natal workers, resulting in significantly higher reproductive success for non-natal workers. In a second experiment, we provided queenless and queenright workers with a choice to remain in their own colony or to join a queenless or queenright colony nearby. The experiment was set up such that worker movement was unlikely to be due to simple orientation errors. Very few workers joined another colony, and there was no preference for workers to drift into or out of queenless or queenright colonies, in accordance with the proportion of non-natal workers declining significantly after becoming queenless in the first experiment.

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