, Volume 65, Issue 12, pp 2341-2349

Competition and cooperation: bumblebee spatial organization and division of labor may affect worker reproduction late in life

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Abstract

Within-group conflict may influence the degree to which individuals within a group cooperate. For example, the most dominant individuals within a group often gain access to the best resources and may be less inclined to perform risky tasks. We monitored space use and division of labor among all workers in three colonies of bumblebees, Bombus impatiens, during the ergonomic and queenless phases of their colony cycle. We then measured the two largest oocytes in each worker to estimate each individual's reproductive potential at the end of the colony cycle. We show that workers that remained farther from the queen while inside the nest and avoided risky or more energy-expensive tasks during the ergonomic phase developed larger oocytes by the end of the colony cycle. These individuals also tended to be the largest, oldest workers. After the queen died, these workers were more likely than their nestmates to increase brood incubation. Our results suggest that inactive bumblebees may be storing fat reserves to later develop reproductive organs and that the spatial organization of workers inside the nest, particularly the distance workers maintain from the queen, may predict which individuals will later have the greatest reproductive potential in the colony.

Communicated by L. Keller