Queens, pseudoqueens and laying workers : reproductive competition in the Cape Honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis Eschscholtz)

Muerrle, Thomas Martin (2008) Queens, pseudoqueens and laying workers : reproductive competition in the Cape Honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis Eschscholtz). PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




In honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) the queen monopolises reproduction. However, especially after queen loss, workers can lay eggs, but are unable to mate. They produce haploid male offspring (drones) from unfertilised eggs via arrhenotokous parthenogenesis. In contrast, workers of the honeybee subspecies Apis mellifera capensis Eschscholtz typically produce diploid female offspring from unfertilised eggs thelytokously. After queen loss and without queen-derived brood A. m. capensis colonies can successfully requeen from worker-derived brood. This, however, is a relatively rare event in wild populations. Moreover, workerderived queens were described to be smaller, more worker-like and reproductively inferior. On the other hand, the fixation of the thelytokous trait relies mainly on sufficient numbers of viable drones produced by worker-derived queens. Small numbers of reproductively inferior worker-derived queens in A. m. capensis populations would be clearly counterintuitive. It is therefore necessary to quantify the significance of worker-dependant queen rearing pathways on the individual (queen) and on population level.Reproductive inferiority of worker-derived queens could not be confirmed on the individual (queen) level when comparing parameters indicating potential reproductive success of queen- and worker-derived queens. Queen- and worker-derived queens clearly showed a congruent range of reproductive performance. In queen rearing preference tests, increased acceptance of worker-derived female larvae was exactly counterbalanced by increased mortality, resulting in an equal number of eclosing virgin queens from an equal number of grafts in both test groups. Larval survival and successful eclosion is a prerequisite for a queen’s reproductive success. I found no difference in eclosion success for queen- and worker-derived virgin queens, indicating a similar potential for reproductive success in both queen types. Assessments of the developmental patterns of colonies headed by both queen and worker-derived queens in long-term experiments revealed no significant differences in reproductive success. Colonies headed by queen-derived queens and colonies headed by worker-derived queens could not be separated when comparing the different developmental pathways observed or from differences in worker-force. Reproductive dominance in A. m. capensis appeared tobe determined by a function of relative compositional and absolute quantitative pheromonal patterns, where individuals, which produce compositionally most queen-like blends in highest quantities, occupy top positions. Queen- and worker-derived virgin queens occupied intermediate positions between pseudoqueens and mated queens. However, no significant differences between the pheromonal status of queen- and worker-derived virgin queens were observed, suggesting a similar range of reproductive dominance for both queen types. In behavioural bioassays queen- and worker-derived virgin queens appeared to be similarly attractive to clustering workers and to drones in a drone congregation area, indicating no differences in potential reproductive success for queens from both origins for those parameters. The significant influence of the queen substance 9-ODA on attractiveness to workers and drones was confirmed. Rare requeening events from worker-derived female brood in queenless A.m. capensis do not satisfactorily explain the fixation of the thelytokous trait at a population level. I observed A. m. capensis worker ovipositing into empty artificial queen cell cups in queen-right colonies. The queen was confined behind a queen excluder grid in a separate compartment of the colony, to imitate reduced pheromonal flow, similar to swarming or superseding colonies. Eggs oviposited by workers in artificial queen cell cups were readily accepted for queen rearing and successful eclosion of viable virgin queens was observed. Consequently I suggested an alternative worker-dependant reproductive pathway in A. m. capensis, which was never described before: In swarming or superseding queenright colonies, laying workers may directly compete with the queen for reproductive success by ovipositing (instead of the queen) into natural queen cell cups. At a population level this reproductive tactic may result in large numbers of worker-derived queens of high reproductive quality in natural populations of A. m. capensis.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, Worker-derived queens, Queen-derived queens, Reproduction
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology > Invertebrates > Insects
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Zoology & Entomology
ID Code:2758
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:04 May 2012 12:23
Last Modified:04 May 2012 12:23
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