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Keywords:

  • arrhenotoky;
  • inclusive fitness;
  • kin-selection;
  • thelytoky;
  • worker policing

Abstract

Reproduction by workers is rare in honey bee colonies that have an active queen. By not producing their own offspring and preventing other workers from producing theirs, workers are thought to increase their inclusive fitness due to their higher average relatedness towards queen-produced male offspring compared with worker-produced male offspring. But there is one exception. Workers of the Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis, are able to produce diploid female offspring via thelytokous parthenogenesis and thus produce clones of themselves. As a result, worker reproduction and tolerance towards worker-produced offspring is expected to be more permissive than in arrhenotokous (sub)species where worker offspring are male. Here we quantify the extent to which A. m. capensis workers contribute to reproduction in queenright colonies using microsatellite analyses of pre-emergent brood. We show that workers produced 10.5% of workers and 0.48% of drones. Most of the workers’ contribution towards the production of new workers coincided with the colonies producing new queens during reproductive swarming.