One of the mechanisms by which honeybees regulate division of labour among their colony members is age polyethism. Here the younger bees perform in-hive tasks such as heating and the older ones carry out tasks outside the hive such as foraging. Recently it has been shown that the higher developmental temperatures of the brood, which occur in the centre of the brood nest, reduce the age at which individuals start to forage once they are adult. It is unknown whether this effect has an impact on the survival of the colony. The aim of this paper is to study the consequences of the temperature gradient on the colony survival in a model on the basis of empirical data.
We created a deterministic simulation of a honeybee colony (Apis mellifera) which we tuned to our empirical data. In the model in-hive bees regulate the temperature of the brood nest by their heating activities. These temperatures determine the age of first foraging in the newly emerging bees and thus the number of in-hive bees present in the colony. The results of the model show that variation in the onset of foraging due to the different developmental temperatures has little impact on the population dynamics and on the absolute number of bees heating the nest unless we increase this effect by several times to unrealistic values, where individuals start foraging up to 10 days earlier or later. Rather than on variation in the onset of foraging due to the temperature gradient it appears that the survival of the colony depends on a minimal number of bees available for heating at the beginning of the simulation. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.