Physiological variation as a mechanism for developmental caste-biasing in a facultatively eusocial sweat bee

Karen M. Kapheim, Adam R. Smith, Kate E. Ihle, Gro Amdam, Peter Nonacs, William T. Wcislo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Social castes of eusocial insects may have arisen through an evolutionary modification of an ancestral reproductive ground plan, such that some adults emerge from development physiologically primed to specialize on reproduction (queens) and others on maternal care expressed as allo-maternal behaviour (workers). This hypothesis predicts that variation in reproductive physiology should emerge from ontogeny and underlie division of labour. To test these predictions, we identified physiological links to division of labour in a facultatively eusocial sweat bee, Megalopta genalis. Queens are larger, have larger ovaries and have higher vitellogenin titres than workers. We then compared queens and workers with their solitary counterparts-solitary reproductive females and dispersing nest foundresses-to investigate physiological variation as a factor in caste evolution. Within dyads, body size and ovary development were the best predictors of behavioural class. Queens and dispersers are larger, with larger ovaries than their solitary counterparts. Finally, we raised bees in social isolation to investigate the influence of ontogeny on physiological variation. Body size and ovary development among isolated females were highly variable, and linked to differences in vitellogenin titres. As these are key physiological predictors of social caste, our results provide evidence for developmental caste-biasing in a facultatively eusocial bee.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1437-1446
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1732
StatePublished - Apr 7 2012


  • Caste determination
  • Division of labour
  • Ground plan
  • Megalopta genalis
  • Social evolution
  • Vitellogenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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