Preservation and loss of the honey bee (Apis) egg-marking signal across evolutionary time
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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.
KeywordsWorker policing Apis florea Apis cerana Apis mellifera Signals
This work was supported by the Thailand Research Fund and the Australian Research Council. We acknowledge the technical assistance of Asst. Prof. Dr. Sureerat Deowanish and members of the Centre of Excellence in Entomology: Bee Biology, Biodiversity of Insects and Mites, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. Tom Wenseleers, Madeleine Beekman, and Bill Hughes provided thoughtful comments on earlier drafts.
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