, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 247-267

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Behavioral genomics of honeybee foraging and nest defense

  • Greg J. HuntAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, Purdue University Email author 
  • , Gro V. AmdamAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
  • , David SchlipaliusAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, Purdue University
  • , Christine EmoreAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, Purdue University
  • , Nagesh SardesaiAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Purdue University
  • , Christie E. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, Purdue UniversityCrop Production and Pest Control Research Unit, USDA-ARS
  • , Olav RueppellAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of North Carolina
  • , Ernesto Guzmán-NovoaAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph
  • , Miguel Arechavaleta-VelascoAffiliated withCentro Nacional de Investigación Disciplinaria en Fisiología Animal, INIFAP
    • , Sathees ChandraAffiliated withDepartment of Biological, Chemical and Physical Sciences, Roosevelt University
    • , M. Kim FondrkAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
    • , Martin BeyeAffiliated withInstitut fuer Genetik, Heinrich-Heine Universitaet Duesseldorf
    • , Robert E. PageJr.Affiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Arizona State University


The honeybee has been the most important insect species for study of social behavior. The recently released draft genomic sequence for the bee will accelerate honeybee behavioral genetics. Although we lack sufficient tools to manipulate this genome easily, quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that influence natural variation in behavior have been identified and tested for their effects on correlated behavioral traits. We review what is known about the genetics and physiology of two behavioral traits in honeybees, foraging specialization (pollen versus nectar), and defensive behavior, and present evidence that map-based cloning of genes is more feasible in the bee than in other metazoans. We also present bioinformatic analyses of candidate genes within QTL confidence intervals (CIs). The high recombination rate of the bee made it possible to narrow the search to regions containing only 17–61 predicted peptides for each QTL, although CIs covered large genetic distances. Knowledge of correlated behavioral traits, comparative bioinformatics, and expression assays facilitated evaluation of candidate genes. An overrepresentation of genes involved in ovarian development and insulin-like signaling components within pollen foraging QTL regions suggests that an ancestral reproductive gene network was co-opted during the evolution of foraging specialization. The major QTL influencing defensive/aggressive behavior contains orthologs of genes involved in central nervous system activity and neurogenesis. Candidates at the other two defensive-behavior QTLs include modulators of sensory signaling (Am5HT 7 serotonin receptor, AmArr4 arrestin, and GABA-B-R1 receptor). These studies are the first step in linking natural variation in honeybee social behavior to the identification of underlying genes.


Apis mellifera Recombination rate Insulin-like signaling Foraging behavior Aggressive behavior Candidate genes Behavior genetics