Reproductive decision-making in semelparous colonies of the bumblebee bombus terrestris

C. Alaux*, P. Jaisson, A. Hefetz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Queen and worker Bombus terrestris have different optima for the timing of gyne production. Workers, being more related to their gyne-sisters than to their sons, should ascertain that gyne production has started before attempting to reproduce. Their optimal timing for gyne production will be as early as possible, while allowing sufficient ergonomic colony growth to support gyne rearing. Queen optimum, on the other hand, should be to postpone gyne production toward the end of colony life cycle, in order to minimize the time-window available for worker reproduction. Thus, the timing of gyne production may profoundly affect the outcome of queen-worker competition over male production. In this study we investigated some of the social correlates possibly affecting this timing. It was found that neither keeping colony size constant and as low as 20 workers, nor decreasing worker average age, influenced the onset of gyne production. To test the effect of queen age we created young colonies with old queens and vice versa. When colony social composition remained unchanged, in young colonies headed by old queens gynes were produced earlier than predicted, but in the inverse situation gyne production was not delayed. When colony social composition was completely standardized queen age had a decisive effect, indicating that the timing of gyne production is both under queen influence and affected by queen age. Furthermore, queens assess colony age from the time of first worker emergence rather than from their own first oviposition. In these experiments the factors affecting gyne production also affected the onset of queen-worker conflict for male production, suggesting that both are regulated by the same causal effect. Postponing gyne production as much as possible provides another mechanism, in addition to extensive oophagy, for the queen to outcompete her workers in male production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-277
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • Bumblebees
  • Gyne production timing
  • Queen-worker conflict
  • Reproductive decision
  • Semelparous


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