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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Life and death in the beehive

Published: 17 February 2009
Bumble bees

The tussle for inheritance between a queen and her daughters

Dr Joel Parker of the School of Biological Sciences has been successful in obtaining a £332,000 grant from the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) to investigate what happens in bumble bee colonies as queens age and produce fewer workers.

The research on kin-selected conflict in the evolution of lifespan and aging is led by Professor Andrew Bourke of the University of East Anglia where around 100 hives will be studied in the three-year project, which will start in summer 2009.

Dr Parker and a post-doctoral researcher will contribute by carrying out laboratory investigations asking how the bees age under changing family relations. He said: ‘As queen bees age, they produce fewer offspring, which changes the relationships within the hives and provokes conflict over resources. ’As the social make up of the hive changes, a tipping point occurs where queens should die and pass on the hive to her daughters. However, from the daughters perspective that point occurs earlier creating a conflict of the inheritance of the resource.’

Theoretical models already exist of this process but this research will be the first to test the theories.

‘Exploring the behaviour of these social insects can provide useful information on the aging process,’ added Dr Parker.

Bumble bees are widely used by commercial nurseries to pollinate crops. The insects to be used for this study will be purchased from this source.

Dr Joel Parker
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