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An organizing feature of bumble bee life history: worker emergence promotes queen reproduction and survival in young nests

Citation

Sarro, Erica et al. (2021), An organizing feature of bumble bee life history: worker emergence promotes queen reproduction and survival in young nests, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.jdfn2z383

Abstract

Bumble bee queens initiate nests solitarily and transition to living socially once they successfully rear their first cohort of offspring. Bumble bees are disproportionately important for early season pollination, and many populations are experiencing dramatic declines. In this system, the onset of the social stage is critical for nest survival, yet the mechanisms that facilitate this transition remain understudied. Further, the majority of conservation efforts targets the social stage of the bumble bee life cycle and do not address the solitary founding stage. We experimentally manipulated the timing of worker emergence in young nests of bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) queens to determine whether and how queen fecundity and survival are impacted by the emergence of workers in the nest. We found that queens with workers added to the nest exhibit increased ovary activation, accelerated egg laying, elevated juvenile hormone (JH) titres and also lower mortality relative to solitary queens. We also show that JH is more strongly impacted by the social environment than associated with queen reproductive state, suggesting that this key regulator of insect reproduction has expanded its function in bumble bees to also influence social organization. We further demonstrate that these effects are independent of queen social history, suggesting that this underlying mechanism promoting queen fecundity is reversible and short lived. Synchronization between queen reproductive status and emergence of workers in the nest may ultimately increase the likelihood of early nesting success in social systems with solitary nest founding. Given that bumble bee workers regulate queen physiology as we have demonstrated, the timing of worker emergence in the nest likely impacts queen fitness, colony developmental trajectories and ultimately nesting success. Collectively, our findings underline the importance of conservation interventions for bumble bees that support the early nesting period and facilitate the production and maintenance of workers in young nests.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: 1631776

National Institutes of Food and Agriculture, Award: CA-R-ENT-5122-H