, Volume 91, Issue 12, pp 575-578
Date: 25 Sep 2004

Pheromone-modulated behavioral suites influence colony growth in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)

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The success of a species depends on its ability to assess its environment and to decide accordingly which behaviors are most appropriate. Many animal species, from bacteria to mammals, are able to communicate using interspecies chemicals called pheromones. In addition to exerting physiological effects on individuals, for social species, pheromones communicate group social structure. Communication of social structure is important to social insects for the allocation of its working members into coordinated suites of behaviors. We tested effects of long-term treatment with brood pheromone on suites of honey bee brood rearing and foraging behaviors. Pheromone-treated colonies reared significantly greater brood areas and more adults than controls, while amounts of stored pollen and honey remained statistically similar. Brood pheromone increased the number of pollen foragers and the pollen load weights they returned. It appeared that the pheromone-induced increase in pollen intake was directly canalized into more brood rearing. A two-way pheromone priming effect was observed, such that some workers from the same age cohorts showed an increased and extended capacity to rear larvae, while others were recruited at significantly younger ages into pollen-specific foraging. Brood pheromone affected suites of nursing and foraging behaviors allocating worker and pollen resources associated with an important fitness trait, colony growth.