Intergenerational transfers may have decoupled physiological and chronological age in a eusocial insect

Gro Amdam, Robert Page

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Life-history theory generally predicts that there should be no selection for longevity beyond the limit of reproductive capacity. However, the capacity to increase fitness may not end when individuals reach a state of functional sterility. Recent studies show that intergenerational transfers of resources from post-reproductive parents can increase the offspring's fitness, and analytical theory shows that age-trajectories of transfers may shape the course of senescence in social organisms. In eusocial insects, female roles are partitioned so that one phenotype or "caste" reproduces while another is responsible for resource transfers: the reproductive "queens" are arrested in a continuous reproductive mode, while transfer-activities such as hygienic behaviors, guarding, foraging and further food processing ("nursing") that increases the nutritional value of provisions are conducted by sterile "workers". Worker honey bees normally perform these tasks in a sequence so that nursing inside the protected nest is conducted prior to more risky exterior hive activities such as guarding and foraging. However, foragers may revert to nurse-activity in response to demographic changes, and worker bees can also develop into a stress resistant survival form with a 10-fold increase in lifespan. This elastic division of parental functions is believed to increase colony fitness. Further, it generates a stage-dependent trajectory of senescence that is difficult to address with established theories of aging. In the following, we show how a recent theory that includes resource transfers can be used to elucidate patterns of senescence in eusocial, non-reproducing individuals like the honey bee worker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-408
Number of pages11
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2005


  • Eusocial insect
  • Intergenerational transfer
  • Physiological and chronological age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology


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