Queen promiscuity lowers disease within honeybee colonies

Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Jan 7;274(1606):67-72. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3702.

Abstract

Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, but in some species each queen mates with numerous males to create a colony with a genetically diverse worker force. The adaptive significance of polyandry by social insect queens remains an evolutionary puzzle. Using the honeybee (Apis mellifera), we tested the hypothesis that polyandry improves a colony's resistance to disease. We established colonies headed by queens that had been artificially inseminated by either one or 10 drones. Later, we inoculated these colonies with spores of Paenibacillus larvae, the bacterium that causes a highly virulent disease of honeybee larvae (American foulbrood). We found that, on average, colonies headed by multiple-drone inseminated queens had markedly lower disease intensity and higher colony strength at the end of the summer relative to colonies headed by single-drone inseminated queens. These findings support the hypothesis that polyandry by social insect queens is an adaptation to counter disease within their colonies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / microbiology
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / microbiology
  • Larva / physiology
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*