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Honey Bee Queens Do Not Count Mates to Assess their Mating Success

Abstract

The mating system of honey bees (genus Apis) is extremely polyandrous, where reproductive females (queens) typically mate with 12 or more males (drones) during their mating flight(s). The evolutionary implications for hyperpolyandry have been subject to considerable debate and empirical testing because of the need to understand the proximate mechanisms that drive such extreme mating behavior despite the potential costs. The ability of queens to gauge and adjust their reproductive success is therefore important for selection to act on queen mating number at both the evolutionary (colony-level) and proximate (individual-level) timescales. We observed the mating flight activities of 80 queens in their respective mating nucleus hives each with a modified entrance that restricts flight attempts. We also attached a small weight (0, 16, or 38 mg) onto each queen’s thorax as a means of imposing additional flight costs. We then compared queens that were restricted from taking multiple mating flights to those that started oviposition after a single flight for their mating numbers as quantified by microsatellite analyses of their respective worker offspring. We found that neither additional weight nor restricted mating attempts had any significant effect on the effective mating frequencies of the experimental queens during their single mating flight. This observation suggests that queens are not adjusting their nuptial flight activity according to their precise mating number during their flight. These findings provide insights into the proximate regulation of honey bee queen mating behavior and the fitness consequences of hyperpolyandry at the colony level.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Jennifer Keller, Megan Walz, Jordan Arata, Sam Freeze, Carl Giuffre, Holden Appler, and Ming Huang for their assistance in monitoring the flight behavior of the experimental queens. We also thank Justin Radloff and Megan Walz for assistance with the genetic analyses. Project Apis m generously provided the equipment for the sperm viability analysis. Additional funding was provided by a US Department of Agriculture Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to MSF and a Coordinated Agriculture Project grant from US Department of Agriculture to DRT.

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Correspondence to Michael Simone-Finstrom.

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Simone-Finstrom, M., Tarpy, D.R. Honey Bee Queens Do Not Count Mates to Assess their Mating Success. J Insect Behav 31, 200–209 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10905-018-9671-3

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Keywords

  • Polyandry
  • mating systems
  • honey bee reproduction
  • paternity analysis
  • Apis mellifera