Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 8, pp 1185–1194

Differential responses of honeybee (Apis mellifera) patrilines to changes in stimuli for the generalist tasks of nursing and foraging

  • Nadine C. Chapman
  • Benjamin P. Oldroyd
  • William O. H. Hughes
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-006-0348-0

Cite this article as:
Chapman, N.C., Oldroyd, B.P. & Hughes, W.O.H. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2007) 61: 1185. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0348-0


Which task a social insect worker engages in is influenced by the worker’s age, genotype and the colony’s needs. In the honeybee, Apis mellifera, genotype influences both the age a worker switches tasks and its propensity of engaging in specialist tasks, such as water collecting, which only some workers will perform. In this study, we used colonies with natural levels of genetic diversity and manipulated colony age demography to drastically increase the stimuli for the generalist tasks of foraging and nursing, which all workers are thought to engage in at some point in their lives. We examined the representation of worker patrilines engaged in nursing and foraging before and after the perturbation. The representation of patrilines among foragers and nurses differed from that of their overall colony’s population. In the case of foraging, over- and underrepresentation of some patrilines was not simply due to differences in rates of development among patrilines. We show that replacement foragers tend to be drawn from patrilines that were overrepresented among foragers before the perturbation, suggesting that there is a genetic component to the tendency to engage in foraging. In contrast, the representation of patrilines in replacement nurses differed from that in the unperturbed nursing population. Our results show that there is a genetic influence on even the generalist tasks of foraging and nursing, and that the way patrilines in genetically diverse colonies respond to increases in task stimuli depends upon the task. The possible significance of this genetic influence on task allocation is discussed.


Task allocation Task plasticity Stimulus response threshold Polyandry Age demography 

Supplementary material

265_2006_348_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (69 kb)
ESM1Electronic Supplementary Material (Pdf 70.4 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nadine C. Chapman
    • 1
  • Benjamin P. Oldroyd
    • 1
  • William O. H. Hughes
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences A12University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of Integrative and Comparative BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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