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Experimentally induced variation in the physical reproductive potential and mating success in honey bee queens

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Abstract

In honeybee colonies, reproduction is monopolized by the queen while her daughter workers are facultatively sterile. Caste determination is a consequence of environmental conditions during development, during which female larvae may become either queens or workers depending on their larval diet. This bipotency introduces significant variation in the reproductive potential of queen bees, with queens raised from young worker larvae exhibiting high reproductive potential and queens raised from older worker larvae exhibiting lower reproductive potential. We verify that low-quality queens are indeed produced from older worker larvae, as measured morphometrically (e.g., body size) and by stored sperm counts. We also show, for the first time, that low-quality queens mate with significantly fewer males, which significantly influences the resultant intracolony genetic diversity of the worker force of their future colonies. These results demonstrate a reproductive continuum of honeybee queens and provide insights into the reproductive constraints of social insects.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Jessica Richards, Matt Mayer, and Holly Wantuch for their help in collecting data in the field, as well as John Harman for his help in DNA extractions and PCR analyses. A special thanks goes to Laura Mathies for use of her fluorescent microscope for the sperm analyses, as well as Laurent Keller and Jim Hunt for helpful comments on the manuscript. Consuelo Arellano provided helpful statistical advice that improved the manuscript. This study was supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, grant number 2007-02281.

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Tarpy, D.R., Keller, J.J., Caren, J.R. et al. Experimentally induced variation in the physical reproductive potential and mating success in honey bee queens. Insect. Soc. 58, 569–574 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-011-0180-z

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