How a colony regulates the division of labor to forage for nutritional resources while accommodating for changes in colony demography is a fundamental question in the sociobiology of social insects. In honey bee, Apis mellifera, brood composition impacts the division of labor, but it is unknown if colonies adjust the allocation of foragers to carbohydrate and protein resources based on changes in the age demography of larvae and the pheromones they produce. Young and old larvae produce pheromones that differ in composition and volatility. In turn, nurses differentially provision larvae, feeding developing young worker larvae a surplus diet that is more queen-like in protein composition and food availability, while old larvae receive a diet that mimics the sugar composition of the queen larval diet but is restrictively fed instead of provided ad lib. This research investigated how larval age and the larval pheromone e-β ocimene (eβ) impact foraging activity and foraging load. Additional cage studies were conducted to determine if eβ interacts synergistically with queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) to suppress ovary activation and prime worker physiology for nursing behavior. Lastly, the priming effects of larval age and eβ on worker physiology and the transition from in-hive nursing tasks to outside foraging were examined. Results indicate that workers differentially respond to larvae of different ages, likely by detecting changes in the composition of the pheromones they emit. This resulted in adjustments to the foraging division of labor (pollen vs. nectar) to ensure that the nutritional needs of the colony's brood were met. For younger larvae and eβ, this resulted in a bias favoring pollen collection. The cage studies reveal that both eβ and QMP suppressed ovary activation, but the larval pheromone was more effective. Maturing in an environment of young or old larvae primed bees for nursing and impacted important endocrine titers involved in the transition to foraging, so bees maturing in the presence of larvae foraged earlier than control bees reared with no brood.
- Decoding brood pheromone: the releaser and primer effects of young and old larvae on honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers
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by Kirsten S. Traynor