Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 955–966 | Cite as

Sensory allometry, foraging task specialization and resource exploitation in honeybees

  • Andre J. Riveros
  • Wulfila Gronenberg
Original Paper


Insect societies are important models for evolutionary biology and sociobiology. The complexity of some eusocial insect societies appears to arise from self-organized task allocation and group cohesion. One of the best-supported models explaining self-organized task allocation in social insects is the response threshold model, which predicts specialization due to inter-individual variability in sensitivity to task-associated stimuli. The model explains foraging task specialization among honeybee workers, but the factors underlying the differences in individual sensitivity remain elusive. Here, we propose that in honeybees, sensory sensitivity correlates with individual differences in the number of sensory structures, as it does in solitary species. Examining European and Africanized honeybees, we introduce and test the hypothesis that body size and/or sensory allometry is associated with foraging task preferences and resource exploitation. We focus on common morphological measures and on the size and number of structures associated with olfactory sensitivity. We show that the number of olfactory sensilla is greater in pollen and water foragers, which are known to exhibit higher sensory sensitivity, compared to nectar foragers. These differences are independent of the distribution of size within a colony. Our data also suggest that body mass and number of olfactory sensilla correlate with the concentration of nectar gathered by workers, and with the size of pollen loads they carry. We conclude that sensory allometry, but not necessarily body size, is associated with resource exploitation in honeybees and that the differences in number of sensilla may underlie the observed differences in sensitivity between bees specialized on water, pollen and nectar collection.


Response threshold model Pollen syndrome Social insects Apis mellifera Division of labor Self-organization 



We thank Jorge Palacios for helping to collect bees, Ashley Wiede, Jonathan Kim, Chirag Patel, and Elizabeth Collier for preparing samples, taking pictures, and measuring bees. We thank Fabiola Santos for help measuring pollen loads. We thank Angelique Paulk for helpful suggestions on methods and Ruben Alarcon for help with the statistical analysis. We thank Gloria Degrandi-Hoffman and the USDA Carl Hayden Honey Bee Research Center for generously providing us with European honeybees. We thank Ruben Alarcon, Daniel Papaj, Diana Wheeler and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms that contributed to improve this manuscript. This work was supported by a grant of the National Science Foundation of the United States of America (IOB-0519483) to WG. Additional support was provided by the Center for Insect Science (University of Arizona) to AJR.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Insect Science and Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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