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New insights into honey bee (Apis mellifera) pheromone communication. Is the queen mandibular pheromone alone in colony regulation?

Author(s): Maisonnasse Alban | Alaux Cédric | Beslay Dominique | Crauser Didier | Gines Christian | Plettner Erika | Le Conte Yves

Journal: Frontiers in Zoology
ISSN 1742-9994

Volume: 7;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 18;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Abstract Background In social insects, the queen is essential to the functioning and homeostasis of the colony. This influence has been demonstrated to be mediated through pheromone communication. However, the only social insect for which any queen pheromone has been identified is the honey bee (Apis mellifera) with its well-known queen mandibular pheromone (QMP). Although pleiotropic effects on colony regulation are accredited to the QMP, this pheromone does not trigger the full behavioral and physiological response observed in the presence of the queen, suggesting the presence of additional compounds. We tested the hypothesis of a pheromone redundancy in honey bee queens by comparing the influence of queens with and without mandibular glands on worker behavior and physiology. Results Demandibulated queens had no detectable (E)-9-oxodec-2-enoic acid (9-ODA), the major compound in QMP, yet they controlled worker behavior (cell construction and queen retinue) and physiology (ovary inhibition) as efficiently as intact queens. Conclusions We demonstrated that the queen uses other pheromones as powerful as QMP to control the colony. It follows that queens appear to have multiple active compounds with similar functions in the colony (pheromone redundancy). Our findings support two hypotheses in the biology of social insects: (1) that multiple semiochemicals with synonymous meaning exist in the honey bee, (2) that this extensive semiochemical vocabulary exists because it confers an evolutionary advantage to the colony.
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