Bombus terrestris colonies go through two major phases: the "pre-competition phase" in which the queen is the sole reproducer and aggression is rare, and the "competition phase" in which workers aggressively compete over reproduction. Conflicts over reproduction are partially regulated by a group of octyl esters that are produced in Dufour's gland of reproductively subordinate workers and protect them from being aggressed. However, workers possess octyl esters even before overt aggression occurs, raising the question of why produce the ester-signal before it is functionally necessary?In most insect societies, foragers show reduced aggression and low dominance rank. We hypothesize that ester production in B. terrestris is not only correlated with sterility but also with foraging, signaling cooperative behavior by subordinate workers. Such a signal helps to maintain social organization, reduce the cost of fights between reproductives and helpers, and increase colony productivity, enabling subordinates to gain greater inclusive fitness. We demonstrate that foragers produce larger amounts of esters compared to non-foragers, and that their amounts positively correlate with foraging efforts. We further suggest that task performance, potential fecundity, and aggression are interlinked, and that worker-worker interactions are involved in regulating foraging behavior.B. terrestris, being an intermediate phase between primitive and derived eusocial insects, provides an excellent model for understanding the evolution of early phases of eusociality. Our results, combined with those in primitively eusocial wasps, suggest that at early stages of social evolution, reproduction was regulated by a "primordial division of labor", that comprised foragers and reproducers, which further evolved to a more complex division of labor, a hallmark of eusociality.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science