Behavioral and molecular mechanisms of pheromone transmission in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)




Ma, Rong, Ph. D.

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The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) has a sophisticated system of pheromonal signals that mediate a wide range of behaviors important for their fitness, including reproductive dominance, nest defense, and cooperative brood care. In honey bees, there are two distinct pheromones emitted by larvae, brood pheromone and (E)-beta-ocimene. By integrating behavior, chemical ecology, and transcriptomics, this dissertation analyzes several key stages in signal transmission in a systematic effort to understand how these two pheromones affect behavior, and in the process, generates a synthetic understanding of a highly complex system of communication.

Previous studies have explored behavioral and gene expression patterns related to honey bee pheromones; however, none have compared the roles that two divergent pheromones from a common source play in rapid regulation of foraging behavior. Furthermore, while previous studies have investigated the mechanisms of pheromone detection and the factors involved in regulation of foraging behavior, it remains unclear how individual responses to pheromone exposure scales to colony-level changes in behavior. By investigating the behavioral, physiological, and genomic influences of honey bee chemical communication, this dissertation links phenotypic plasticity in behavior to gene expression profiles in the brain and provides insights into the evolution of a sophisticated chemical language.


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