The mechanisms that maintain reproductive division of labor in social insects are still incompletely understood. Most studies focus on the relationship between adults, overlooking another important stakeholder - the juveniles. Recent studies show that not only the queen but also the brood regulate worker reproduction. However, how the two coordinate to maintain reproductive monopoly remained unexplored. Here, we disentangled the roles of the brood and the queen in primitively eusocial bees (Bombus impatiens) by examining their separated and combined effects on worker behavioral, physiological and brain gene expression. We found that young larvae produce a releaser effect on workers, decreasing oviposition and aggression, while the queen produces both releaser and primer effects, modifying worker behavior and reproductive physiology. The expression of reproduction- and aggression-related genes was altered in the presence of both queen and brood but was stronger or the same in the presence of the queen. We identified two types of interactions between the queen and the brood in regulating worker reproduction: (1) synergistic interactions regulating worker physiology, where the combined effect of the queen and the brood on worker physiology was greater than their separate effects; (2) additive interactions, where the combined effect of the queen and the brood on worker behavior was similar to the sum of their separate effects. Our results suggest that the queen and the brood interact synergistically and additively to regulate worker behavior and reproduction, and this interaction exists at multiple regulatory levels.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Molecular Biology
- Insect Science