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Keywords:

  • Bombus;
  • proteomics;
  • behaviour;
  • size;
  • phenotype;
  • division of labour

Abstract

Female bumble bee workers of the same species often show a profound body size variation that is linked to a division of labour. Large individuals are more likely to forage whereas small individuals are more likely to perform in-nest activities. A higher sensory sensitivity, stronger circadian rhythms as well as better learning and memory performances appear to better equip large individuals for outdoor activities compared to their smaller siblings. The molecular mechanisms underlying worker functional polymorphism remain unclear. Proteins are major determinants of an individual's morphology and behaviour. We hypothesized that the abundance of proteins such as metabolic enzymes as well as proteins involved in neuronal functions would differ with body size and provide insights into the mechanisms underlying size-dependent physiological specialization in bumble bee workers. We conducted protein quantification measurements based on liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry on tissue samples derived from small and large Bombus impatiens and Bombus terrestris workers. Proteins found to differ significantly in abundance between small and large workers belong to the categories of structure, energy metabolism and stress response. These findings provide the first proteomic insight into mechanisms associated with size-based division of labour in social insects.