Background: There is great interest in understanding the genomic underpinnings of social evolution, in particular, the evolution of eusociality (caste-containing societies with non-reproductives that care for siblings). Subsociality is a key precursor for the evolution of eusociality and characterized by prolonged parental care and parent-offspring interaction. Here, we provide the first transcriptomic data for the small carpenter bee, Ceratina calcarata. This species is of special interest because it is subsocial and in the same family as the highly eusocial honey bee, Apis mellifera. In addition, some C. calcarata females demonstrate alloparental care without reproduction, which provides a unique opportunity to study worker behaviour in a non-eusocial species. Results: We uncovered similar gene expression patterns related to maternal care and sibling care in different groups of females. This agrees with the maternal heterochrony hypothesis, specifically, that changes in timing of offspring care gene expression are related to worker behaviour in incipient insect societies. In addition, we also detected some similarity to caste-related gene expression patterns in highly eusocial honey bees, and uncovered large lifetime changes in gene expression that accompany shifts in reproductive and maternal care behaviour. Conclusions: For Ceratina calcarata, we found that transcript expression profiles were most similar between sibling care and maternal care females. The maternal care behaviour exhibited post-reproductively by Ceratina mothers is concordant in terms of transcript expression with the alloparental care exhibited by workers. In line with theoretical predictions, our data are consistent with the maternal heterochrony hypothesis for the evolutionary development of worker behaviour in subsocial bees.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/amy-toth/2/