Genetic Relatedness and Chemical Profiles in an Unusually Peaceful Eusocial Bee

J Chem Ecol. 2011 Oct;37(10):1117-26. doi: 10.1007/s10886-011-0016-3. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


Colonies of the stingless bee Tetragonilla collina frequently occur in unusually high densities and in direct neighborhood (nest aggregations), in rainforests of Southeast Asia. To investigate whether close relatedness and/or similar chemical profiles facilitate the co-occurrence of multiple T. collina colonies, we investigated aggressive behavior, genetic relatedness and cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles within and between colonies and nest aggregations. Although 17 out of 19 colonies within aggregations were largely unrelated, intraspecific aggression between different colonies was basically absent both within and among aggregations. This lack of aggression should favor social parasitism and hence the occurrence of unrelated individuals within a colony. However, low within-colony relatedness was found in only five out of 19 colonies where it may be explained by queen turnover or the occurrence of foreign workers. CHC profiles of colonies within and among aggregations were statistically different. However, many workers could chemically not be assigned to their maternal colony, indicating considerable overlap among colonies in odor profiles of workers. Moreover, odor profiles tended to be more similar within than among aggregations, although most colonies were unrelated. Thus, CHC profiles were a poor indicator of relatedness in T. collina. The lack of correlation between relatedness and chemical similarity in T. collina may be explained by the incorporation of resin-derived terpenes in their CHC profiles. The composition of these terpenes was highly similar among colonies, particularly within aggregations, hence potentially decreasing chemical distinctiveness and increasing behavioral tolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Bees / chemistry*
  • Bees / genetics*
  • DNA / genetics
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Nesting Behavior*


  • Hydrocarbons
  • DNA