Behavioural, physiological and molecular changes in alloparental caregivers may be responsible for selection response for female reproductive investment in honey bees

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: Reproductive investment is a central life history variable that influences all aspects of life. Hormones coordinate reproduction in multicellular organisms, but the mechanisms controlling the collective reproductive investment of social insects are largely unexplored. One important aspect of honey bee (Apis mellifera) reproductive investment consists of raising female-destined larvae into new queens by alloparental care of nurse bees in form of royal jelly provisioning. Artificial selection for commercial royal jelly production over 40 years has increased this reproductive investment by an order of magnitude. In a cross-fostering experiment, we establish that this shift in social phenotype is caused by nurse bees. We find no evidence for changes in larval signalling. Instead, the antennae of the nurse bees of the selected stock are more responsive to brood pheromones than control bees. Correspondingly, the selected royal jelly bee nurses are more attracted to brood pheromones than unselected control nurses. Comparative proteomics of the antennae from the selected and unselected stocks indicate putative molecular mechanisms, primarily changes in chemosensation and energy metabolism. We report expression differences of several candidate genes that correlate with the differences in reproductive investment. The functional relevance of these genes is supported by demonstrating that the corresponding proteins can competitively bind one previously described and one newly discovered brood pheromone. Thus, we suggest several chemosensory genes, most prominently OBP16 and CSP4, as candidate mechanisms controlling queen rearing, a key reproductive investment, in honey bees. These findings reveal novel aspects of pheromonal communication in honey bees and explain how sensory changes affect communication and lead to a drastic shift in colony-level resource allocation to sexual reproduction. Thus, pheromonal and hormonal communication may play similar roles for reproductive investment in superorganisms and multicellular organisms, respectively.

Additional Information

Molecular Ecology. 2019; 28(18): 4212– 4227.
Language: English
Date: 2019
artificial selection response, brood care, EAG, larval pheromones, life history syndrome, reproduction, social evolution, social phenotype

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