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Biol Lett. 2013 May 1;9(3):20130056. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0056. Print 2013 Jun 23.

Queen control of a key life-history event in a eusocial insect.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ, UK.


In eusocial insects, inclusive fitness theory predicts potential queen-worker conflict over the timing of events in colony life history. Whether queens or workers control the timing of these events is poorly understood. In the bumble-bee Bombus terrestris, queens exhibit a 'switch point' in which they switch from laying diploid eggs yielding females (workers and new queens) to laying haploid eggs yielding males. By rearing foundress queens whose worker offspring were removed as pupae and sexing their eggs using microsatellite genotyping, we found that queens kept in the complete absence of adult workers still exhibit a switch point. Moreover, the timing of their switch points relative to the start of egg-laying did not differ significantly from that of queens allowed to produce normal colonies. The finding that bumble-bee queens can express the switch point in the absence of workers experimentally demonstrates queen control of a key life-history event in eusocial insects. In addition, we found no evidence that workers affect the timing of the switch point either directly or indirectly via providing cues to queens, suggesting that workers do not fully express their interests in queen-worker conflicts over colony life history.


Bombus; eusocial insect; life history; queen control; switch point

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