Sex and Caste-Specific Variation in Compound Eye Morphology of Five Honeybee Species

Streinzer, Martin; Brockmann, Axel; Nagaraja, Narayanappa; Spaethe, Johannes
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Ranging from dwarfs to giants, the species of honeybees show remarkable differences in body size that have placed evolutionary constrains on the size of sensory organs and the brain. Colonies comprise three adult phenotypes, drones and two female castes, the reproductive queen and sterile workers. The phenotypes differ with respect to tasks and thus selection pressures which additionally constrain the shape of sensory systems. In a first step to explore the variability and interaction between species size-limitations and sex and caste-specific selection pressures in sensory and neural structures in honeybees, we compared eye size, ommatidia number and distribution of facet lens diameters in drones, queens and workers of five species (Apis andreniformis, A. florea, A. dorsata, A. mellifera, A. cerana). In these species, male and female eyes show a consistent sex-specific organization with respect to eye size and regional specialization of facet diameters. Drones possess distinctly enlarged eyes with large dorsal facets. Aside from these general patterns, we found signs of unique adaptations in eyes of A. florea and A. dorsata drones. In both species, drone eyes are disproportionately enlarged. In A. dorsata the increased eye size results from enlarged facets, a likely adaptation to crepuscular mating flights. In contrast, the relative enlargement of A. florea drone eyes results from an increase in ommatidia number, suggesting strong selection for high spatial resolution. Comparison of eye morphology and published mating flight times indicates a correlation between overall light sensitivity and species-specific mating flight times. The correlation suggests an important role of ambient light intensities in the regulation of species-specific mating flight times and the evolution of the visual system. Our study further deepens insights into visual adaptations within the genus Apis and opens up future perspectives for research to better understand the timing mechanisms and sensory physiology of mating related signals.


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