In many species, inbreeding avoidance mechanisms prevent mating between close relatives, but these mechanisms are poorly studied in bumble bees. The probability of inbred matings within a colony in eusocial insects may depend on the timing of gyne and male emergence and on their sex ratio. In this study, we compared the development of 35 colonies of the bumble bee Bombus terrestris from founding to the emergence of the last gyne, and we investigated the probability of inbred mating in colonies with fertile newborn gynes and males. We calculated a novel colony inbreeding risk index (IRI), which considers the overlap period between fertile gynes and males, their numbers, and the colony sex ratio. We found that the IRI values were strictly correlated with the time elapsed between the gyne point and the switch point (i.e., from the moment of deposition of the first diploid egg that produces a gyne to the first haploid egg). We separated the colonies into two groups based on the mean value of the IRI: colonies with low IRI produced more gynes (93.8 ± 9.4), for a longer period (32.1 ± 1.8 days) and with a lower percentage of overlapped gynes (69 ± 5%) than colonies with high IRI (57.1 ± 21 gynes, 23.3 ± 2.9 days, and 100% overlapped gynes, respectively). A low IRI is connected to a reduced risk of inbred mating, while colonies with a high IRI may be advantaged in conditions of isolation, in case of the absence of non-related reproducers. Inbreeding risk index proved to be a good indicator of the colony reproductive strategy.
Bombus terrestrisFertility overlap Gyne point Inbreeding risk Colony development Switch point.
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This work was performed within the Life + Project PP-ICON (Plant-Pollinator CONservation approach: a demonstrative proposal—LIFE09/NAT/IT000212), funded by the European Union.
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