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Social Parasitism by Honeybee Workers (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.): Evidence for Pheromonal Resistance to Host Queen's Signals

Vincent Dietemann, Jochen Pflugfelder, Stephan Härtel, Peter Neumann and Robin M. Crewe
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Vol. 60, No. 6 (Oct., 2006), pp. 785-793
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25063876
Page Count: 9
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Social Parasitism by Honeybee Workers (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.): Evidence for Pheromonal Resistance to Host Queen's Signals
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Abstract

Social parasites exploit their host's communication system to usurp resources and reproduce. In the honeybee, Apis mellifera, worker reproduction is regulated by pheromones produced by the queen and the brood. Workers usually reproduce when the queen is removed and young brood is absent. However, Cape honeybee workers, Apis mellifera capensis, are facultative intraspecific social parasites and can take over reproduction from the host queen. Investigating the manner in which parasitic workers compete with host queens pheromonally can help us to understand how such parasitism can evolve and how reproductive division of labour is regulated. In A. m. capensis, worker reproduction is associated with the production of queen-like pheromones. Using pheromonal contest experiments, we show that Apis mellifera scutellata queens do not prevent the production of queen-like mandibular gland compounds by the parasites. Given the importance of these pheromones in acquiring reproductive status, our data suggest that the single invasive lineage of parasitic workers occurring in the range of A. m. scutellata was selected for its superior ability to produce these signals despite the presence of a queen. Such resistance was indeed less frequent amongst other potentially parasitic lineages. Resistance to reproductive regulation by host queens is probably the key factor that facilitates the evolution of social parasitism by A. m. capensis workers. It constitutes a mechanism that allows workers to evade reproductive division of labour and to follow an alternative reproductive option by acquiring direct fitness in foreign colonies instead of inclusive fitness in their natal nests.

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