Host-symbiont dynamics are known to influence host phenotype, but their role in social behavior has yet to be investigated. Variation in life history across honey bee (Apis mellifera) castes may influence community composition of gut symbionts, which may in turn influence caste phenotypes. We investigated the relationship between host-symbiont dynamics and social behavior by characterizing the hindgut microbiome among distinct honey bee castes: queens, males and two types of workers, nurses and foragers. Despite a shared hive environment and mouth-to-mouth food transfer among nestmates, we detected separation among gut microbiomes of queens, workers, and males. Gut microbiomes of nurses and foragers were similar to previously characterized honey bee worker microbiomes and to each other, despite differences in diet, activity, and exposure to the external environment. Queen microbiomes were enriched for bacteria that may enhance metabolic conversion of energy from food to egg production. We propose that the two types of workers, which have the highest diversity of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) of bacteria, are central to the maintenance of the colony microbiome. Foragers may introduce new strains of bacteria to the colony from the environment and transfer them to nurses, who filter and distribute them to the rest of the colony. Our results support the idea that host-symbiont dynamics influence microbiome composition and, reciprocally, host social behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0123911
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Caste-specific differences in hindgut microbial communities of honey bees (Apis mellifera)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this