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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Polyandry and mate choice in the honeybee


The evolution of multiple-mating by females (polyandry) represents a fundamental problem in behavioural ecology, because, while costs are generally assumed to be large, clear benefits have remained elusive. This is in spite of polyandry having substantial implications for the conflict of interests between the sexes, sexual selection and speciation. The problem is acute in the social insects because their particular biology means that many hypothesised benefits are unlikely to apply to them and the behaviour is most probably associated with greater direct and evolutionary costs than in non-social animals. Yet accurate data on the costs of polyandry in social insects are almost completely lacking, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the decision to engage in polyandry or whether females can express mate choice, and one of the best supported hypotheses for polyandry in non-social animals, that it reduces the fitness costs of genetically incompatible matings, has never been investigated in social insects. The project will use the honeybee as the model organism to address these key knowledge gaps. Honeybees are one of the few social insects in which the costs of polyandry can be accurately quantified, and this will be one of the main objectives of the project. Honeybees are also one of the few species where artificial insemination techniques are available and these will be used together with natural matings to examine the mechanisms underlying the decision of queens to remate. In addition, the question of whether or not females are able to express either pre- or postcopulatory mate choice will be examined along with the fitness implications of a lack of choice. In addition to providing insight into the evolution of polyandry, the results will also be useful to the apiculture industry by suggesting ways in which the success of queen matings may be improved.

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Western Bank, firth court
United Kingdom

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