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Mol Ecol. 2011 Dec;20(24):5337-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05344.x. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Nutrition and division of labor: Effects on foraging and brain gene expression in the paper wasp Polistes metricus.

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Department of Entomology, University of Illinois, 320 Morrill Hall, 505 S. Goodwin Ave. Urbana, IL 61802, USA.


Deeply conserved molecular mechanisms regulate food-searching behaviour in response to nutritional cues in a wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates. Studies of the highly eusocial honey bee have shown that nutritional physiology and some conserved nutrient signalling pathways, especially the insulin pathway, also regulate the division of labour between foraging and non-foraging individuals. Typically, lean workers leave the nest to forage for food, and well-nourished workers perform tasks inside the nest. Here we provide the first direct test of whether similar mechanisms operate in a primitively eusocial insect in an independently evolved social lineage, the paper wasp Polistes metricus. We found that food deprivation caused reduced lipid stores and higher levels of colony and individual foraging. Individuals with greatly reduced lipid stores foraged at extremely elevated levels. In addition, brain expression of several foraging-related genes was influenced by food deprivation, including insulin-like peptide 2 (ilp2). Together with previous findings, our results demonstrate that nutrition regulates foraging division of labour in two independently evolved social insect lineages (bees and wasps), despite large differences in social organization. Our results also provide additional support for the idea that nutritional asymmetries among individuals, based on differences in nutritional physiology and expression of conserved nutrient signalling genes in the brain, are important in the division of labour in eusocial societies.

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