Bumblebees as model organisms to study male sexual selection in social insects

doi 10.1007/s00265-003-0673-5


Social insect males are often regarded as being merely short - lived 'flying sperm containers', which ignores their potential influence on females and paternity patterns as found in other animals. Consequently, social insect males have received only marginal attention and sexual selection has almost never been studied in these species. Here I present a review of the mating biology of bumblebees (Bombus spp.), which are the best-studied social insects to date. I follow a male's pathway from his birth until he successfully contributes to the next generation, and show that males have evolved adaptations and behaviors to influence paternity patterns at various stages of their life, which are similar to those exhibited by males of non-social insects. By comparing the available bumblebee data with more sparse studies of male reproductive behavior in other social Hymenoptera, I argue that such male adaptations may indeed be widespread in social insects. I suggest that current paradigms on sexual selection should be challenged by using social insects as model systems, because they offer unique features, and a solid theoretical background in which clear predictions can be made and appropriate experimental tests of them can be designed.

Key Words

Social Hymenoptera; Copulation; Sperm competition; Accessory-gland compounds; Paternity