Location, location, location: Larvae position inside the nest is correlated with adult body size in worker bumble-bees (Bombus impatiens)

Margaret J. Couvillon, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Scopus citations

Abstract

Social insects display task-related division of labour. In some species, division of labour is related to differences in body size, and worker caste members display morphological adaptations suited for particular tasks. Bumble-bee workers (Bombus spp.) can vary in mass by eight- to tenfold within a single colony, which previous work has linked to division of labour. However, little is known about the proximate mechanism behind the production of this wide range of size variation within the worker caste. Here, we quantify the larval feeding in Bombus impatiens in different nest zones of increasing distance from the centre. There was a significant difference in the number of feedings per larva across zones, with a significant decrease in feeding rates as one moved outwards from the centre of the nest. Likewise, the diameter of the pupae in the peripheral zones was significantly smaller than that of pupae in the centre. Therefore, we conclude that the differential feeding of larvae within a nest, which leads to the size variation within the worker caste, is based on the location of brood clumps. Our work is consistent with the hypothesis that some larvae are 'forgotten', providing a possible first mechanism for the creation of size polymorphism in B. impatiens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2411-2418
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume276
Issue number1666
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 7 2009

Keywords

  • Alloethism
  • Bombus impatiens
  • Bumble-bees
  • Division of labour
  • Size polymorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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