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Worker drift and egg dumping by queens in wild Bombus terrestris colonies

O'Connor S, Park K & Goulson D (2013) Worker drift and egg dumping by queens in wild Bombus terrestris colonies. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67 (4), pp. 621-627.

Wild bumblebee colonies are hard to find and often inaccessible, so there have been few studies of the genetic structure of bumblebees within natural colonies, and hence, it is not clear how frequently events such as worker reproduction, worker drift and queen usurpation take place. This study aimed to quantify the occurrence of natal-worker reproduction, worker drift and drifter reproduction within 14 wild colonies of Bombus terrestris in Central Scotland. Four unlinked microsatellites were used to identify patterns of relatedness of the colonies' adults and broods. In colonies with queens (queenright colonies), worker reproduction accounted for just 0.83 % of males, increasing to 12.11 % in queenless colonies. Four colonies contained a total of six workers which were not daughters of the queen, and were assumed to be drifters, and four male offspring of drifters. Drifting is clearly not common and results in few drifter offspring overall, although drifters produced approximately seven times more offspring per capita than workers that remained in their natal colony. Unexpectedly, two colonies contained clusters of sister workers and juvenile offspring that were not sisters to the rest of the adults or brood found in the colonies, demonstrating probable egg dumping by queens. A third colony contained a queen which was not a sister or daughter to the other bees in the colony. Although usurping of bumblebee colonies by queens in early season is well documented, this appears to be the first record of egg dumping, and it remains unclear whether it is being carried out by old queens or newly mated young queens.

Egg dumping; Drifting; Bombus ; Colony parasitism

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology: Volume 67, Issue 4

Author(s)O'Connor, Stephanie; Park, Kirsty; Goulson, Dave
Publication date30/04/2013
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