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Volume 29, Number 1-2, 1998
Colony integration
Page(s) 7 - 21
Apidologie 29 (1998) 7-21
DOI: 10.1051/apido:19980101

Organization of honeybee colonies: characteristics and consequences of a superorganism concept

Robin F.A. Moritza and Stefan Fuchsb

a  Institut für Zoologie, Martin-Luther-Universität, Kröllwitzer Str. 44, D-06099 Halle/Saale, Germany
b  Institut für Bienenkunde, Universität, Frankfurt/Main, Karl-von-Frisch-Weg 2, 61440 Oberursel, Germany

Abstract - The colonial organization of honeybees reveals numerous analogies to multicellular organisms which makes it tempting to use the term superorganism. The sterile workers fulfill the role of the somatic cells in organisms with intricate and complex interactions. These interactions are under partial control of hierarchical signals (pheromones) which are primarily used for global information of the colony. The majority of the activities in the colony is, however, regulated through local decision making and through self-organized processes which are regulated through worker threshold response variability. In honeybees this is enhanced through the highly polyandrous mating system which allows for wide genotypic variance and the presence of genetic specialists. Although both individual and colony level selection can be observed in honeybees the latter seems to be the predominant selective force. This is similar to organismic selection where selection among or within cells is less relevant to evolutionary processes than fitness at the organismic level. © Inra/DIB/AGIB/Elsevier, Paris

Key words: social organization / superorganism / division of labor / self-organization / polyandry / Apis mellifera