ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

Queenless Altruism

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Science  27 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6153, pp. 1431
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6153.1431-d
CREDIT: N. L. NAEGER ET AL., CURRENT BIOLOGY 23, 16 (18 AUGUST 2013) © 2013 ELSEVIER LTD

The activity of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies is centered around a single reproductive female, the queen. Sterile worker females populate the majority of the hive, with the remainder composed of a small number of males. Worker tasks vary and include foraging, care for the queen and young, and hive construction and defense, with tasks largely corresponding to age (younger bees care for young, whereas older ones forage and defend the hive). In a hive that has lost its queen, some workers start to lay eggs, but their offspring will all be male. Kin selection theory suggests that worker altruism in queenless colonies will be reduced because the workers are less related to the sibling's progeny than that of the queen. Naeger et al. examine altruism and social organization in a queenless hive. They find that egg-laying workers were as likely to forage or participate in hive defense as non–egg layers, who have less developed ovaries. Further, reproductive workers were metabolically invested in brood food and wax production. This results in a hive with decreased task specialization, so that bees that forage also care for the brood and maintain the structure of the hive; a case more similar to what is seen in solitary social bees. This work supports kin selection models in that reproductive conflict is increased in queenless colonies but altruism is still present. Queenless workers participate in their own reproduction but also display altruistic behaviors that benefit the colony.

Curr. Biol. 23, 1574 (2013).

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