It's good to be queen: classically eusocial colony structure and low worker fitness in an obligately social sweat bee


Miriam H. Richards, Fax: +1 905 688 1855; E-mail:


Lasioglossum malachurum, a bee species common across much of Europe, is obligately eusocial across its range but exhibits clear geographic variation in demography and social behaviour. This variation suggests that social interactions between queens and workers, opportunities for worker oviposition, and patterns of relatedness among nest mates may vary considerably, both within and among regions. In this study, we used three microsatellite loci with 12–18 alleles each to examine the sociogenetic structure of colonies from a population at Agios Nikolaos Monemvasias in southern Greece. These analyses reveal that the majority of colonies exhibit classical eusocial colony structure in which a single queen mated to a single male monopolizes oviposition. Nevertheless, we also detect low rates of multiqueen nest founding, occasional caste switching by worker-destined females, and worker oviposition of both gyne and male-producing eggs in the final brood. Previous evidence that the majority of workers show some ovarian development and a minority (17%) have at least one large oocyte contrasts with the observation that only 2–3% of gynes and males (the so-called reproductive brood) are produced by workers. An evaluation of the parameters of Hamilton's Rule suggests that queens benefit greatly from the help provided by workers but that workers achieve greater fitness by provisioning and laying their own eggs rather than by tending to the queen's eggs. This conflict of interest between the queen and her workers suggests that the discrepancy between potential and achieved worker oviposition is due to queen interference. Comparison of relatedness and maternity patterns in the Agios Nikolaos Monemvasias population with those from a northern population near Tübingen, Germany, points to a north–south cline of increasingly effective queen control of worker behaviour.