Juvenile hormone interacts with multiple factors to modulate aggression and dominance in a social bumblebee

Abstract:

Juvenile hormone (JH) is a key regulator of insect development and reproduction. Given that JH commonly affects adult insect fertility, it has been hypothesized to also regulate behaviors such as dominance and aggression that are associated with reproduction. We tested this hypothesis in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris for which JH has been shown to be the major gonadotropin. We used the allatoxin precocene-I (P-I) to reduce hemolymph JH titers and replacement therapy with JH-III to revert this effect. In small orphan groups of workers with similar body size but mixed treatment, P-I treated bees showed lower aggressiveness, oogenesis, and dominance rank compared with control and replacement therapy treated bees. In similar groups in which all bees were treated similarly, there was a clear dominance hierarchy, even in P-I and replacement therapy groups in which the bees showed similar levels of ovarian activation. In a similar experiment in which bees differed in body size, larger bees were more likely to be dominant despite their similar JH treatment and ovarian state. In the last experiment, we show that JH manipulation does not affect dominance rank in groups that had already established a stable dominance hierarchy. These findings solve previous ambiguities concerning whether or not JH affects dominance in bumblebees. JH positively affects dominance, but bees with similar levels of JH can nevertheless establish dominance hierarchies. Thus, multiple factors including JH, body size, and previous experience affect dominance and aggression in social bumblebees.

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