Colony-level selection effects on individual and colony foraging task performance in honeybees, Apis mellifera L

Jennifer Fewell, Robert Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


In honeybees, as in other highly eusocial species, tasks are performed by individual workers, but selection for worker task phenotypes occurs at the colony level. We investigated the effect of colony-level selection for pollen storage levels on the foraging behavior of individual honeybee foragers to determine (1) the relationship between genotype and phenotypic expression of foraging traits at the individual level and (2) how genetically based variation in worker task phenotype is integrated into colony task organization. We placed workers from lines selected at the colony level for high or low pollen stores together with hybrid workers into a common hive environment with controlled access to resources. Workers from the selected lines showed reciprocal variation in pollen and nectar collection. High-pollen-line foragers collected pollen preferentially, and low-pollen-line workers collected nectar, indicating that the two tasks covary genetically. Hybrid workers were not intermediate in phenotype, but instead showed directional dominance for nectar collection. We monitored the responses of workers from the selected strains to changes in internal (colony) and external (resource) stimulus levels for pollen foraging to measure the interaction between genotypic variation in foraging behavior and stimulus environment. Under low-stimulus conditions, the foraging group was over-represented by high-pollen-line workers. However, the evenness in distribution of the focal genetic groups increased as foraging stimuli increased. These data are consistent with a model where task choice is a consequence of genetically based response thresholds, and where genotypic diversity allows colony flexibility by providing a range of stimulus thresholds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-181
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Division of labor
  • Honeybees
  • Pollen foraging
  • Selection
  • Task performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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