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Ecol Evol. 2012 Dec;2(12):3098-109. doi: 10.1002/ece3.414. Epub 2012 Nov 8.

Development and evolution of caste dimorphism in honeybees - a modeling approach.

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1
Department of Zoology, Stockholm University Stockholm, Sweden ; Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin Wallotstrasse 19, Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

The difference in phenotypes of queens and workers is a hallmark of the highly eusocial insects. The caste dimorphism is often described as a switch-controlled polyphenism, in which environmental conditions decide an individual's caste. Using theoretical modeling and empirical data from honeybees, we show that there is no discrete larval developmental switch. Instead, a combination of larval developmental plasticity and nurse worker feeding behavior make up a colony-level social and physiological system that regulates development and produces the caste dimorphism. Discrete queen and worker phenotypes are the result of discrete feeding regimes imposed by nurses, whereas a range of experimental feeding regimes produces a continuous range of phenotypes. Worker ovariole numbers are reduced through feeding-regime-mediated reduction in juvenile hormone titers, involving reduced sugar in the larval food. Based on the mechanisms identified in our analysis, we propose a scenario of the evolutionary history of honeybee development and feeding regimes.

KEYWORDS:

Caste determination; developmental evolution; plasticity; polyphenism; social insects

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