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Abstract

We examined intra-patriline behavioral plasticity in communication behavior by generating lifetime behavioral profiles for the performance of the vibration signal and waggle dance in workers which were the progeny of three unrelated queens, each inseminated with the semen of a single, different drone. We found pronounced variability within each patriline for the tendency to produce each signal, the ontogeny of signal performance, and the persistence with which individual workers performed the signals throughout their lifetimes. Within each patriline, the number of workers that performed each signal and the distribution of onset ages for each signal were significantly different. In each patriline, workers of all ages could perform vibration signals; vibration signal production began 3–5 d before waggle dancing; and some workers began performing waggle dances at ages typically associated with precocious foraging. Most workers vibrated and waggled only 1–2 d during their lifetimes, although each patriline contained some workers that performed the signal persistently for up to 8 or 9 d. We also found marked variability in signal performance among the three worker lineages examined. Because the vibration signal and waggle dance influence task performance, variability in signaling behavior within and between subfamilies may help to organize information flow and collective labor in honey bee colonies. Inter-patriline variability may influence the total number of workers from different partrilines that perform the signals, whereas intra-patriline variability may further fine-tune signal performance and the allocation of labor to a given set of circumstances. Although intra-patriline behavioral variability is assumed to be widespread in the social insects, our study is the first to document the extent of this variability for honey bee communication signals.