The most advanced social insects, the eusocial insects, form often large societies in which there is reproductive division of labor, queens and workers, have overlapping generations, and cooperative brood care where daughter workers remain in the nest with their queen mother and care for their siblings. The eusocial insects are composed of representative species of bees and wasps, and all species of ants and termites. Much is known about their organizational structure, but remains to be discovered.
The success of social insects is dependent upon cooperative behavior and adaptive strategies shaped by natural selection that respond to internal or external conditions. The objective of my research was to investigate specific mechanisms that have helped shaped the structure of division of labor observed in social insect colonies, including age polyethism and nutrition, and phenomena known to increase colony survival such as egg cannibalism. I developed various Ordinary Differential Equation (ODE) models in which I applied dynamical, bifurcation, and sensitivity analysis to carefully study and visualize biological outcomes in social organisms to answer questions regarding the conditions under which a colony can survive. First, I investigated how the population and evolutionary dynamics of egg cannibalism and division of labor can promote colony survival. I then introduced a model of social conflict behavior to study the inclusion of different response functions that explore the benefits of cannibalistic behavior and how it contributes to age polyethism, the change in behavior of workers as they age, and its biological relevance. Finally, I introduced a model to investigate the importance of pollen nutritional status in a honeybee colony, how it affects population growth and influences division of labor within the worker caste. My results first reveal that both cannibalism and division of labor are adaptive strategies that increase the size of the worker population, and therefore, the persistence of the colony. I show the importance of food collection, consumption, and processing rates to promote good colony nutrition leading to the coexistence of brood and adult workers. Lastly, I show how taking into account seasonality for pollen collection improves the prediction of long term consequences.