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Pheromone Communication in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera L.)

Abstract

Recent studies have demonstrated a remarkable and unexpected complexity in social insect pheromone communication, particularly for honeybees (Apis mellifera L.). The intricate interactions characteristic of social insects demand a complex language, based on specialized chemical signals that provide a syntax that is deeper in complexity and richer in nuance than previously imagined. Here, we discuss this rapidly evolving field for honeybees, the only social insect for which any primer pheromones have been identified. Novel research has demonstrated the importance of complexity, synergy, context, and dose, mediated through spatial and temporal pheromone distribution, and has revealed an unprecedented wealth of identified semiochemicals and functions. These new results demand fresh terminology, and we propose adding “colony pheromone” and “passenger pheromone” to the current terms sociochemical, releaser, and primer pheromone to better encompass our growing understanding of chemical communication in social insects.

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Acknowledgments

We appreciate the continued financial support of Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (K.S., M.W.) and of I.N.R.A., S.P.E. Department and Beekeeper associations in France (Y.L.C.). We acknowledge the hard work and insights of our students, employees, and colleagues in our pursuit to better understand these animals. We thank C. Brillet, H.A. Higo, C.I. Keeling, M. Ono, T. Pankiw, E. Plettner, and anonymous reviewers for their critical readings of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yves Le Conte.

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Slessor, K.N., Winston, M.L. & Le Conte, Y. Pheromone Communication in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera L.). J Chem Ecol 31, 2731–2745 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-005-7623-9

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Key Words

  • Apis mellifera
  • honeybee
  • social insect
  • chemical communication
  • pheromone
  • chemoecology