Conflict over male production in stingless bees

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Although social hymenopteran colonies show a high level of cooperation among their members, colony members can have conflicts among themselves as well. One of these intra-colonial conflicts is who produces the males. I studied the resolution of conflict in stingless bees, a species-rich group with a tropical distribution. In the majority of stingless bee species both workers and queens are able to produce males. Therefore intracolonial conflict over male production is predicted. Because stingless bee queens mate only once, workers are more related to their own and to each other's sons than to the sons of the queen. Thus on genetic grounds, worker production of males is expected. However, workers might not reproduce if the costs of reproduction are high, or if the queen is able to suppress workers. The decision could have been made in the bygone times and the current pattern does not serve adaptive functions at the present. To test my predictions of conflict over male production I looked at three levels: within colonies, within species, and between species. On the colony and species level, I hypothesized that current conflict is expressed by behavioral antagonism between the workers and their queen. Furthermore, I predicted behavioral conflict to be higher in the periods when males are produced compared to periods with only female production. On the level of comparison between species I expected more signs of conflict in species where both workers and queen produce males than in species where males are all queen derived. The conclusions of this study concerning conflict over male production in stingless bees are: (1) Genetic tools confirmed that workers reproduce in some, but not in other species. (2) The costs involved with worker reproduction could explain why in some species workers reproduce and in others not. (3) There is not only a variance of worker reproduction between, but also within species. Demographical factors might be essential determining the amount of worker reproduction within species. (4) The pattern of worker reproduction could be explained by costs although phylogenetic relationships could explain the pattern also.

Doctor of Philosophy
Ecology, Entomology, Zoology

Toth, Eva. "Conflict over male production in stingless bees." (2002) Diss., Rice University.

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