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Exp Gerontol. 2007 Oct;42(10):1020-32. Epub 2007 Jun 29.

Regulation of life history determines lifespan of worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.).

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Department of Biology, 312 Eberhart Building, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1000 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC 27403, USA.


Life expectancy of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) is of general interest to gerontological research because its variability among different groups of bees is one of the most striking cases of natural plasticity of aging. Worker honey bees spend their first days of adult life working in the nest, then transition to foraging and die between 4 and 8 weeks of age. Foraging is believed to be primarily responsible for the early death of workers. Three large-scale experiments were performed to quantitatively assess the importance of flight activity, chronological age, extrinsic mortality factors and foraging specialization. Forager mortality was higher than in-hive bee mortality. Most importantly however, reducing the external mortality hazards and foraging activity did not lead to the expected strong extension of life. Most of the experimental effects were attributable to an earlier transition from hive tasks to foraging. This transition is accompanied by a significant mortality peak. The age at the onset of foraging is the central variable in worker life-history and behavioral state was found more important than chronological age for honey bee aging. However, mortality risk increased with age and the negative relation between pre-foraging and foraging lifespan indicate some senescence irrespective of behavioral state. Overall, honey bee workers exhibit a logistic mortality dynamic which is mainly caused by the age-dependent transition from a low mortality pre-foraging state to a higher mortality foraging state.

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