, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 305-316,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Nov 2009

Division of labor in honeybees: form, function, and proximate mechanisms


Honeybees exhibit two patterns of organization of work. In the spring and summer, division of labor is used to maximize growth rate and resource accumulation, while during the winter, worker survivorship through the poor season is paramount, and bees become generalists. This work proposes new organismal and proximate level conceptual models for these phenomena. The first half of the paper presents a push–pull model for temporal polyethism. Members of the nursing caste are proposed to be pushed from their caste by the development of workers behind them in the temporal caste sequence, while middle-aged bees are pulled from their caste via interactions with the caste ahead of them. The model is, hence, an amalgamation of previous models, in particular, the social inhibition and foraging for work models. The second half of the paper presents a model for the proximate basis of temporal polyethism. Temporal castes exhibit specialized physiology and switch caste when it is adaptive at the colony level. The model proposes that caste-specific physiology is dependent on mutually reinforcing positive feedback mechanisms that lock a bee into a particular behavioral phase. Releasing mechanisms that relate colony level information are then hypothesized to disrupt particular components of the priming mechanisms to trigger endocrinological cascades that lead to the next temporal caste. Priming and releasing mechanisms for the nursing caste are mapped out that are consistent with current experimental results. Less information-rich, but plausible, mechanisms for the middle-aged and foraging castes are also presented.

Communicated by R. Moritz.