Development and evolution of caste dimorphism in honeybees - a modeling approach

Olof Leimar, Klaus Hartfelder, Manfred Laubichler, Robert Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The difference in phenotypes of queens and workers is a hallmark of the highly eusocial insects. The caste dimorphism is often described as a switch-controlled polyphenism, in which environmental conditions decide an individual's caste. Using theoretical modeling and empirical data from honeybees, we show that there is no discrete larval developmental switch. Instead, a combination of larval developmental plasticity and nurse worker feeding behavior make up a colony-level social and physiological system that regulates development and produces the caste dimorphism. Discrete queen and worker phenotypes are the result of discrete feeding regimes imposed by nurses, whereas a range of experimental feeding regimes produces a continuous range of phenotypes. Worker ovariole numbers are reduced through feeding-regime-mediated reduction in juvenile hormone titers, involving reduced sugar in the larval food. Based on the mechanisms identified in our analysis, we propose a scenario of the evolutionary history of honeybee development and feeding regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3098-3109
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Caste determination
  • Developmental evolution
  • Plasticity
  • Polyphenism
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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