Heirs and spares: caste conflict and excess queen production in Melipona bees
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The caste conflict hypothesis states that there is potential conflict over the caste fate of totipotent immature females in social insects. In most species, an immature female has little control over her fate because workers control her nutrition. However, in Melipona bees, immature females should have considerable control over their own caste fate because they develop on a provision mass in a sealed cell, and because queens are not larger than workers. This may explain why, in Melipona, large numbers of queens are reared only to be executed. (Because Melipona colonies are founded by swarms very few reproductive opportunities for adult queens occur.) This study uses a one-locus genetic model to determine the optimum proportion of females that should develop into queens from the perspective of immature totipotent females who control their own caste fate. For a population in which all colonies are headed by a single, single-mated queen, which is the typical situation in Melipona, the optimum rises from 14–20% as male production by workers declines from 100% to zero. This agrees well with previous studies which, collectively, give an average of 22% of females developing into queens.
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