Pheromone-mediated reproductive dominance hierarchies among pseudo-clonal honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis)
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Honey bee colonies are characterised by well-developed reproductive division of labour between the queen and workers. Here, we test whether this reproductive division of labour is evident in both the socially parasitic workers that invade a colony as well as in their offspring generation. We infected six Apis mellifera scutellata host colonies with pseudo-clonal socially parasitic Cape honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis). We show that the first generation of socially parasitic workers can monopolize reproduction within host colonies. Of the initially invading parasites, 94.4% became reproductive pseudoqueens with activated ovaries and produced queen-like pheromones. Their offspring, however, had much lower levels of ovary activation (3.1%), yet 89% showed fatty acid synthesis typical of the queen substance (9-oxo-2(E)-decenoic acid) biochemical pathway. However, in these second-generation workers, the last oxidation step from the precursor (9-hydroxy-2(E)-decenoic acid) to the queen substance was interrupted and appears to be required for reproductive dominance in honeybee workers. Our data show that despite the absence of genetic diversity, residual queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) variation is sufficient to establish reproductive dominance hierarchies among parasitic workers. Consequently, QMP produced by a group of workers can maintain reproductive division of labour in queenless honeybee colonies.
- RESEARCH: Wossler T