, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 146-152

Simulation models of the role of genetic variability in social insect task allocation

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Summary

A feature of some species of eusocial Hymenoptera is a high level of intra-colonial genetic diversity, and correlated diversity in the level of the stimulus required for individuals to initiate work. Here we explore the effects of intracolonial variability on the responsiveness of colonies to changing needs in task allocation using computer simulation. Our simulations show that colonies comprised of individuals of uniform task threshold are poor at adapting to changing colony needs – that is, they did not allocate the appropriate numbers of workers to tasks. On the other hand, colonies comprised of many groups of differing task threshold adapt quickly and more appropriately to changes in task need. Our simulations suggest that intracolonial genetic variability may be an important component of an efficient task allocation system for some species of social Hymenoptera. We speculate that the benefits of an improved task allocation system may have contributed to the high levels of polyandry and polygyny seen in some of these insects.

Received 17 August 2001; revised 25 March and 13 October 2003; accepted 3 November 2003.