Posted: March 3, 2017

This is the 2nd of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Bumble Bee Conflicts & Cooperation
By Emily L. Sandall

In human society, people define their social relationships and choose their roles in the community. Some get along better than others, but negotiation is necessary in order to make society run smoothly. Bumble bees have also devised a way to establish their roles in society and cooperate. What is the buzz on how these insects balance individual and colony interests?

"[Bumble bee] workers go through puberty and fight amongst themselves", explains Ryan Reynolds, a Master's student in the laboratory of Dr. Christina Grozinger, part of the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State University.

Reynolds is investigating the physical and genetic basis for aggressive behavior in worker bumble bees that defines who gets to reproduce. Just as people determine how to work and build a family, bumble bees identify their roles in their colonies through communication and behavior.

For his research, Reynolds observes worker bumble bees in order to see the behaviors individual bees use to intimidate their fellow workers. These intimidation tactics, including darting, humming, and biting, last less than a second and can indicate bee aggression. He can then examine the genetic and physical differences between these aggressive individuals.

Reynolds hopes that his research can aid in understanding why bees evolved social behaviors that enable only certain individuals and genes to get passed on in the colony. "This is a system where bees are sometimes social and sometimes competitive," so he hopes to connect the changes in reproductive abilities and behavior.

With his research, Reynolds hopes to blend genetics, anatomy, and behavior in order to understand and develop the best colony of bees, enhancing pollinator abilities in the future. Maybe we will be hovering closer to unraveling the evolutionary mechanisms behind how reproduction shapes behavior and relationships, for bees and beyond.