Colony response to graded resource changes: An analytical model of the influence of genotype, environment, and dominance

Susan M. Bertram, Root Gorelick, Jennifer Fewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Successful social groups must respond dynamically to environmental changes. However, a flexible group response requires the coordination of many individuals. Here we offer a static analytical model that integrates variation in environment-based cues for performance of a task with genetically and environmentally based variation in individual responses, and predicts the resultant colony behavior for that task. We also provide formulae for computing effective number of alleles in a haplo-diploid colony founded by any number of parents. Variable colony resources combined with variation among worker phenotypes generate known patterns of colony flexibility, allowing us to explicitly test how the number of loci, dominance/codominance, and the phenotype's environment influences group response. Our model indicates that the number of loci strongly influences colony behavior. For one or two loci, the proportion of workers foraging for pollen remain constant over vast increases in colony pollen stores, but then drops dramatically when the pollen stores increase past a specific threshold. As the number of loci controlling pollen foraging increases, graded increases in pollen stores result in a graded drop in the proportion of the worker population foraging for pollen. The effect of number of alleles is less strong, a result we discuss in light of the fact that a low number of effective alleles are expected in a colony. Comparisons of our model with empirical honey bee (Apis mellifera) data indicate that worker foraging response to pollen stores is driven by one or two loci, each with dominant allelic effects. The growing body of evidence that genotype has strong effects on task performance in social insect colonies, and the variation in within-colony genetic diversity across social insect taxa, make our model broadly applicable in explaining social group coordination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-162
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Effective number of alleles
  • Genetic variation
  • Social group organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Colony response to graded resource changes: An analytical model of the influence of genotype, environment, and dominance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this