Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 287–297 | Cite as

Kin conflict over caste determination in social Hymenoptera

  • Andrew F. G. Bourke
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks


We argue that caste determination, the process whereby females in the social Hymenoptera develop into either queens or workers, is subject to kin-selected conflict. Potential conflict arises because developing females are more closely related to their would-be offspring than to those of other females. Therefore, they may favour becoming queens contrary to the interests of other developing females and of existing queens and workers. We suggest two contexts leading to potential caste conflict. The first occurs when queens are reared in a reproductive phase following an ergonomic phase of worker production, while the second occurs when queens and workers are reared simultaneously. The first context assumes that workers' per capita contribution to colony survival and productivity falls with rising colony size. A critical feature influencing whether potential conflict is realized is the extent to which developing females can determine their own caste (“self-determination”). Self-determination is facilitated when female larvae control their own food intake and when queen-worker size dimorphism is low. We know of no strong evidence for actual conflict over caste fate arising in the first context. However, stingless bees and polygynous ants with excess queen-potential larvae that are either forced to develop as workers or are culled as adults demonstrate actual caste conflict in the second context. Caste conflict does not preclude caste regulation for “the good of the colony”, but such regulation is contingent on either the absence of potential conflict or on developing females losing control of their caste fate.

Key words Caste determination Conflict Kin selection Social insect 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew F. G. Bourke
    • 1
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY, UK e-mail: Tel.: +44-171-4496676, Fax: +44-171-4832237GB
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant Sciences University of Sheffield Sheffield, S10 2TN, UKGB

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