The genetic basis of division of labor in social insects is a central question in evolutionary and behavioral biology. The honey bee is a model for studying evolutionary behavioral genetics because of its well characterized age-correlated division of labor. After an initial period of within-nest tasks, 2-3 week-old worker bees begin foraging outside the nest. Individuals often specialize by biasing their foraging efforts toward collecting pollen or nectar. Efforts to explain the origins of foraging specialization suggest that division of labor between nectar and pollen foraging specialists is influenced by genes with effects on reproductive physiology. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping of foraging behavior also reveals candidate genes for reproductive traits. Here, we address the linkage of reproductive anatomy to behavior, using backcross QTL analysis, behavioral and anatomical phenotyping, candidate gene expression studies, and backcross confirmation of gene-to-anatomical trait associations. Our data show for the first time that the activity of two positional candidate genes for behavior, PDK1 and HR46, have direct genetic relationships to ovary size, a central reproductive trait that correlates with the nectar and pollen foraging bias of workers. These findings implicate two genes that were not known previously to influence complex social behavior. Also, they outline how selection may have acted on gene networks that affect reproductive resource allocation and behavior to facilitate the evolution of social foraging in honey bees.
Wang, Y., Amdam, G. V., Rueppell, O., Wallrichs, M. A., Fondrk, M. K., Kaftanoglu, O., & Page, R. E. (2009). PDK1 and HR46 gene homologs tie social behavior to ovary signals. PLoS ONE, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004899