July 8, 2022

A new study shows that isolation impacts the brain development and behavior of bumblebees in an unexpected way. 

Sarah Kocher, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and her team found that bumblebees who were socially isolated during early adulthood blossom into social butterflies, displaying more friendly social behavior than bees who remained in groups. 

The results were a surprise, as other organisms have been shown to act more aggressively and be less social after being isolated. The team also identified six genes that were different in the isolated bumblebees when compared to the bees that were not isolated. 

Studying these qualities in bumblebees can provide insight into social evolution and brain development on a broader scale.

“Because insects and vertebrates share a common evolutionary ancestor, many of the same molecular mechanisms shape the brains of both groups,” Kocher said. “As a result, many of our findings in bees could also extend to vertebrates."

Story by Alaina O'Regan, Office of the Dean for Research.