There is increasing evidence that ovarian status influcences behavioral phenotype in workers of the honey bee Apis mellifera. Honey bee workers demonstrate a complex division of labor. Young workers perform in-hive tasks (e.g. brood care), while older bees perform outside tasks (e.g. foraging for food). This age correlated division of labor is known as temporal polyethism. Foragers demonstrate further division of labor with some bees biasing collection towards protein (pollen) and others towards carbohydrates (nectar). The Reproductive Ground-plan Hypothesis proposes that the ovary plays a regulatory role in foraging division of labor. European honey bee workers that have been selectively bred to store larger amounts of pollen (High strain) also have a higher number of ovarioles per ovary than workers from strains bred to store less pollen (Low strain). High strain bees also initiate foraging earlier than Low strain bees. The relationship between ovariole number and foraging behavior is also observed in wild-type Apis mellifera and Apis cerana: pollen-biased foragers have more ovarioles than nectar-biased foragers. In my first study, I investigated the pre-foraging behavioral patterns of the High and Low strain bees. I found that High strain bees progress through the temporal polyethism at a faster rate than Low strain bees. To ensure that the observed relationship between the ovary and foraging bias is not due to associated separate genes for ovary size and foraging behavior, I investigated foraging behavior of African-European backcross bees. The backcross breeding program was designed to break potential gene associations. The results from this study demonstrated the relationship between the ovary and foraging behavior, supporting the proposed causal linkage between reproductive development and behavioral phenotype. The final study was designed to elucidate a regulatory mechanism that links ovariole number with sucrose sensitivity, and loading decisions. I measured ovariole number, sucrose sensitivity and sucrose solution load size using a rate-controlled sucrose delivery system. I found an interaction effect between ovariole number and sucrose sensitivity for sucrose solution load size. This suggests that the ovary impacts carbohydrate collection through modulation of sucrose sensitivity. Because nectar and pollen collection are not independent, this would also impact protein collection.
- Ovarian regulation of honey bee (Apis mellifera) foraging division of labor