Worker honey bees change roles as they age as part of a hormonally regulated process of behavioural development that ends with a specialised foraging phase. The rate of behavioural development is highly plastic and responsive to changes in colony condition such that forager losses, disease or nutritional stresses accelerate behavioural development and cause an early onset of foraging in workers. It is not clear to what degree the behavioural development of workers can be accelerated without there being a cost in terms of reduced foraging performance. Here, we compared the foraging performance of bees induced to accelerate their behavioural development by treatment with the juvenile hormone analogue methoprene with that of controls that developed at a normal rate. Methoprene treatment accelerated the onset of both flight and foraging behaviour in workers, but it also reduced foraging span, the total time spent foraging and the number of completed foraging trips. Methoprene treatment did not alter performance in a short-range navigation task, however. These data indicate a limitation to the physiological plasticity of bees, and a trade off between forager performance and the speed at which bees begin foraging. Chronic stressors will be expected to reduce the mean age of the foraging force, and therefore also reduce the efficiency of the foraging force. This interaction may explain why honey bee colonies react to sustained stressors with non-linear population decline.
- Life span
- Precocious foraging
- Radio frequency identification