Isolation disrupts social interactions and destabilizes brain development in bumblebees

Curr Biol. 2022 Jun 20;32(12):2754-2764.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.04.066. Epub 2022 May 17.


Social isolation, particularly in early life, leads to deleterious physiological and behavioral outcomes. Here, we leverage new high-throughput tools to comprehensively investigate the impact of isolation in the bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, from behavioral, molecular, and neuroanatomical perspectives. We reared newly emerged bumblebees in complete isolation, in small groups, or in their natal colony, and then analyzed their behaviors while alone or paired with another bee. We find that when alone, individuals of each rearing condition show distinct behavioral signatures. When paired with a conspecific, bees reared in small groups or in the natal colony express similar behavioral profiles. Isolated bees, however, showed increased social interactions. To identify the neurobiological correlates of these differences, we quantified brain gene expression and measured the volumes of key brain regions for a subset of individuals from each rearing condition. Overall, we find that isolation increases social interactions and disrupts gene expression and brain development. Limited social experience in small groups is sufficient to preserve typical patterns of brain development and social behavior.

Keywords: RNA-seq; antennation; brain; gene expression; machine vision; social behavior; social insects; social isolation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Brain
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Interaction*
  • Social Isolation