Social molecular pathways and the evolution of bee societies

Guy Bloch, Christina M. Grozinger

Abstract

Bees provide an excellent model with which to study the neuronal and molecular modifications associated with the evolution of sociality because relatively closely related species differ profoundly in social behaviour, from solitary to highly social. The recent development of powerful genomic tools and resources has set the stage for studying the social behaviour of bees in molecular terms. We review ‘ground plan’ and ‘genetic toolkit’ models which hypothesize that discrete pathways or sets of genes that regulate fundamental behavioural and physiological processes in solitary species have been co-opted to regulate complex social behaviours in social species. We further develop these models and propose that these conserved pathways and genes may be incorporated into ‘social pathways’, which consist of relatively independent modules involved in social signal detection, integration and processing within the nervous and endocrine systems, and subsequent behavioural outputs. Modifications within modules or in their connections result in the evolution of novel behavioural patterns. We describe how the evolution of pheromonal regulation of social pathways may lead to the expression of behaviour under new social contexts, and review plasticity in circadian rhythms as an example for a social pathway with a modular structure.

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