Aging and demographic plasticity in response to experimental age structures in honeybees (Apis mellifera L)

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Olav Rueppell, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Honeybee colonies are highly integrated functional units characterized by a pronounced division of labor. Division of labor among workers is mainly age-based, with younger individuals focusing on in-hive tasks and older workers performing the more hazardous foraging activities. Thus, experimental disruption of the age composition of the worker hive population is expected to have profound consequences for colony function. Adaptive demography theory predicts that the natural hive age composition represents a colony-level adaptation and thus results in optimal hive performance. Alternatively, the hive age composition may be an epiphenomenon, resulting from individual life history optimization. We addressed these predictions by comparing individual worker longevity and brood production in hives that were composed of a single-age cohort, two distinct age cohorts, and hives that had a continuous, natural age distribution. Four experimental replicates showed that colonies with a natural age composition did not consistently have a higher life expectancy and/or brood production than the single-cohort or double-cohort hives. Instead, a complex interplay of age structure, environmental conditions, colony size, brood production, and individual mortality emerged. A general tradeoff between worker life expectancy and colony productivity was apparent, and the transition from in-hive tasks to foraging was the most significant predictor of worker lifespan irrespective of the colony age structure. We conclude that the natural age structure of honeybee hives is not a colony-level adaptation. Furthermore, our results show that honeybees exhibit pronounced demographic plasticity in addition to behavioral plasticity to react to demographic disturbances of their societies.

Additional Information

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 62: 1621-1631
Language: English
Date: 2008
Aging, Mortality, Social insects, Division of labor, Homeostasis, Colony productivity, Biodemography

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