Effects of inbreeding on immune response and body size in a social insect, Bombus terrestris


†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: gerloff@eco.umnw.ethz.ch


  • 1Inbreeding can negatively affect various fitness components. Here we examine how immune response and body size of a social insect are affected by inbreeding, sex and ploidy.
  • 2In the bumble-bee, Bombus terrestris (L.), the offspring of colonies resulting from brother–sister matings were compared with that of outbred colonies. Immune response was measured as the degree of encapsulation of a novel antigen, body size as the length of the radial cell in the forewings.
  • 3Inbreeding affected neither immune response nor body size in either workers or haploid males under laboratory conditions. However, fitness characteristics varied significantly among maternal families and colonies. The lack of detectable inbreeding depression for two fitness components might help explain why B. terrestris is a good colonizer in nature.
  • 4In addition, sex and ploidy strongly affected the fitness components studied: diploid males had a significantly lower immune response than haploid males, who in turn had a significantly lower immune response than workers of the same colony. The body size of diploid males was intermediate between the body size of workers and haploid males.