The effect of forager loss on honeybee workers temporal polyethism and social network structure

Elias Beck, Tom Wenseleers, Ricardo Caliari Oliveira

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The western honeybee Apis mellifera is perhaps the best-known example of an advanced eusocial species displaying temporal polyethism, a process in which workers perform different tasks in the colony as they age. Previous studies demonstrated that this temporal division of labour is not only regulated by the age of the bees but also by the proportion of workers performing the required tasks in the colony. As we progress through the Anthropocene, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that a significant increase in both the frequency and intensity of severe weather events can be expected in the coming decades. Here, we performed a controlled interrupted time series experiment with the objective of quantifying the possible effects that these weather events might have in the honeybee colony dynamics. By simulating a significant loss of foragers in the colony, we observed that honeybee workers quickly replaced the missing foragers by accelerating their transition to a subsequent task and, in some cases, completely skipped several of the natural task transitions with respect to their age. In addition, we analysed how the colony social network structure is affected by the sudden loss of foragers. Indeed, our data show that honeybee colonies increased their network cohesion with workers having a higher number of interactions as well as becoming more closely connected to one another soon after the disturbance. Overall, our data shows that even when faced with a substantial perturbation, honeybees can respond swiftly in order to maintain colony homeostasis and likely increase their resilience against future perturbations.
Idioma originalEnglish
Número d’article51
Nombre de pàgines13
Estat de la publicacióPublicada - 5 d’oct. 2023


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