Preservation and loss of the honey bee (Apis) egg-marking signal across evolutionary time
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- Nanork, P., Wongsiri, S. & Oldroyd, B.P. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2007) 61: 1509. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0382-6
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Honey bee workers are able to distinguish queen-laid eggs from worker-laid eggs, and remove (‘police’) worker-laid eggs. The cue that police workers use is as yet unidentified but is likely to be a chemical signal. This signal benefits queens for it ensures their reproductive monopoly. It also benefits collective workers because it allows them to raise more closely related queen-laid males than the less-related sons of half sisters. Because both parties benefit from the egg-marking signal, it should be stable over evolutionary time. We show that Apis mellifera workers can distinguish queen-laid from worker-laid eggs of the dwarf honey bee A. florea, a phylogenetically distant species that diverged from the A. mellifera lineage 6–10 mya. However, A. mellifera workers are unable to distinguish worker-laid eggs of A. cerana, a much more recent divergence (2–3 mya). The apparent change in the egg-marking signal used by A. cerana may be associated with the high rates of ovary activation in this species.