Most insects and bee species live solitary or in small groups. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) however, share their hive with thousands of individuals. Only the queen and the male drones are responsible for the reproduction. The queen lays either unfertilized eggs which develop into male drones or fertilized eggs which develop into worker honeybees. The worker honeybees perform all tasks necessary for the colony and show a sophisticated, age-dependent division of labor (DoL).
After emergence, young honeybees work in the center of the hive. They perform nursing tasks like cleaning cells or feeding larvae. After about three weeks, these nurse bees change their task completely and become foragers. Forager leave the hive and search for pollen, nectar or water. This transition is mainly age dependent. Yet under some conditions, young nurse bees can also become foragers, for example, if a lot of foragers are removed from the hive. Yet, until this day, the molecular basis of this nurse-forager transition are unknown.
My research focuses on this important developmental step in a honeybee’s life. Nutrition might play a crucial role in DoL. For instance, starved honeybees start to forage earlier in life than well fed ones. Therefore, I try to influence the larval nutrition by feeding honeybee larvae with varying amounts of food in different qualities. After emergence, I want to observe the adult honeybees for their developmental time in regards to DoL using radio-frequency identification. Furthermore, I try to manipulate nutrition and DoL related genes using genetic techniques to observe possible resulting behavioral changes.
Hesselbach, H., Seeger, J., Schilcher, F., Ankenbrand, M., and Scheiner, R. (2020) Chronic exposure to the pesticide flupyradifurone can lead to premature onset of foraging in honeybees (Apis mellifera), Journal of Applied Ecology 57, 609-618.