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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Jan 7;270(1510):99-103.

Genetic diversity within honeybee colonies prevents severe infections and promotes colony growth.

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  • Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. dt66@cornell.edu


Multiple mating by social insect queens increases the genetic diversity among colony members, thereby reducing intracolony relatedness and lowering the potential inclusive fitness gains of altruistic workers. Increased genetic diversity may be adaptive, however, by reducing the prevalence of disease within a nest. Honeybees, whose queens have the highest levels of multiple mating among social insects, were investigated to determine whether genetic variation helps to prevent chronic infections. I instrumentally inseminated honeybee queens with semen that was either genetically similar (from one male) or genetically diverse (from multiple males), and then inoculated their colonies with spores of Ascosphaera apis, a fungal pathogen that kills developing brood. I show that genetically diverse colonies had a lower variance in disease prevalence than genetically similar colonies, which suggests that genetic diversity may benefit colonies by preventing severe infections.

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