The hive bee to forager transition in honeybee colonies: The double repressor hypothesis

Gro Vang Amdam, Stig W. Omholt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Scopus citations


In summer, the honeybee (Apis mellifera) worker population consists of two temporal castes, a hive bee group performing a multitude of tasks including nursing inside the nest, and a forager group specialized on collecting nectar, pollen, water and propolis. Elucidation of the regulatory mechanisms responsible for the hive bee to forager transition holds a prominent position within present day sociobiology. Here we suggest a new explanation dubbed the "double repressor hypothesis" aimed to account for the substantial amount of empirical data in this field. This is the first time where both the regular transition and starvation-induced precocious transition are explained within the same regulatory framework. We suggest that the transition is under regulatory control by an internal and an external repressor of the allatoregulatory central nervous system, where these two repressors modulate a positive regulatory feedback loop involving juvenile hormone (JH) and the lipoprotein vitellogenin. The concepts of age-neutrality, fixed and variable response thresholds and reinforcement are integral parts of our explanation, and in addition they are given explicit physiological content. The hypothesis is represented by a differential equations model at the level of the individual bee, and by a discrete individual-based colony model. The two models generate predictions in accordance with empirical data concerning the cumulative probability of becoming a forager, mean age at onset of foraging, reversal of foragers, time window of reversal, relationship between JH titre and onset of foraging, relative representations of genotypic groups, and effects of forager depletion and confinement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-464
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 21 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Apis mellifera
  • Division of labour
  • Multiple steady states
  • Reinforcement
  • Response thresholds
  • Self-organization
  • Social systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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