Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 25–32 | Cite as

Ventilation response thresholds do not change with age or self-reinforcement in workers of the bumble bee Bombus impatiens

  • N. DuongEmail author
  • A. Dornhaus
Research Article


The response threshold model is a potential mechanism for task allocation in social insects, and it assumes that workers vary in the levels of task stimuli to which they respond. Furthermore, response thresholds of individual workers may change over time through self-reinforcement (experience), such that workers become more sensitive to task stimuli. However, in addition to self-reinforcement, aging is another process that occurs through time. Distinguishing whether response thresholds change within workers due to self-reinforcement or aging may give insight into the flexibility of this task allocation mechanism. Using a ventilation paradigm, we manipulated workers of Bombus impatiens to have either repeated or lack of exposures to increases in nest air temperature, thereby allowing us to manipulate experience and thus self-reinforcement. Nest air temperature was the task stimulus, and ventilation (fanning) was the behavioral response. We found that ventilation response thresholds do not decrease either with age or experience in workers of B. impatiens, contrary to what has been reported for B. terrestris workers (Weidenmüller, 2004). Instead, we found high levels of intra-individual variation in response thresholds. Our results also show that workers with lower average response thresholds respond to heating events with higher probability than those with higher ventilation thresholds. These results provide insight into the role of the response threshold framework for task allocation; we also discuss how response probabilities may play a role in task allocation among workers.


Collective behavior Division of labor Learning Task allocation Thermoregulation 



We give special thanks to the 2 anonymous referees who gave helpful suggestions towards improving previous versions of this manuscript. ND would like to thank the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona for funding. AD wishes to thank the NSF (grants no. IOS-1045239 and IOS-0841756) for funding.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Entomology and Insect Science Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, Arizona Research LaboratoriesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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