Effects of selective episodes in the field on life history traits in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris
Natural selection has different fitness consequences when it acts during different life cycle stages of an organism. In social insects, for example, the colony foundation and early colony growth is a critical time period with high probability of failure. Here we used colonies of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris L. to test whether selective episodes at different life cycle stages result in differences in colony performance and fitness. The timing of a selective episode was varied by field exposure of colonies, either permanently or during a short period at three different colony life cycle stages - early, middle, or late in the cycle. We found that selective episodes at different life cycle stages did not affect maximal size, fitness or survival of colonies, or the time span between colony foundation and reproduction. Instead, the colonies were able to compensate for costs encountered by delaying reproduction. This might have important fitness consequences, since later emerging sexuals might be faced with harsher environmental conditions and increased costs of finding a mate. In addition, an important component of selection might be parasitism and the resulting resource allocation to the immune system. We here measured the generalized immune response (i.e. encapsulation response) of early produced workers as an indicator of a colony's capacity to defend against parasitism. Encapsulation response correlated positively with eventual colony size and fitness, indicating that this measure of "immunocompetence" correlates with important life history traits.