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The physiology of division of labor in the ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus

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A notable feature of advanced eusocial insect groups is a division of labor within the sterile worker caste. However, the physiological aspects underlying the differentiation of behavioral phenotypes are poorly understood in one of the most successful social taxa, the

A notable feature of advanced eusocial insect groups is a division of labor within the sterile worker caste. However, the physiological aspects underlying the differentiation of behavioral phenotypes are poorly understood in one of the most successful social taxa, the ants. By starting to understand the foundations on which social behaviors are built, it also becomes possible to better evaluate hypothetical explanations regarding the mechanisms behind the evolution of insect eusociality, such as the argument that the reproductive regulatory infrastructure of solitary ancestors was co-opted and modified to produce distinct castes. This dissertation provides new information regarding the internal factors that could underlie the division of labor observed in both founding queens and workers of Pogonomyrmex californicus ants, and shows that changes in task performance are correlated with differences in reproductive physiology in both castes. In queens and workers, foraging behavior is linked to elevated levels of the reproductively-associated juvenile hormone (JH), and, in workers, this behavioral change is accompanied by depressed levels of ecdysteroid hormones. In both castes, the transition to foraging is also associated with reduced ovarian activity. Further investigation shows that queens remain behaviorally plastic, even after worker emergence, but the association between JH and behavioral bias remains the same, suggesting that this hormone is an important component of behavioral development in these ants. In addition to these reproductive factors, treatment with an inhibitor of the nutrient-sensing pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR) also causes queens to become biased towards foraging, suggesting an additional sensory component that could play an important role in division of labor. Overall, this work provides novel identification of the possible regulators behind ant division of labor, and suggests how reproductive physiology could play an important role in the evolution and regulation of non-reproductive social behaviors.

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Date Created
2012

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Mating Biology, Social Structure, and the Evolution of Reproductive Conflict in Ants

Description

In many social groups, reproduction is shared between group members, whocompete for position in the social hierarchy for reproductive dominance. This
reproductive conflict can lead to different means of enforcing reproductive differences,
such as dominance displays or limited control of

In many social groups, reproduction is shared between group members, whocompete for position in the social hierarchy for reproductive dominance. This
reproductive conflict can lead to different means of enforcing reproductive differences,
such as dominance displays or limited control of social hierarchy through antagonistic
encounters. In eusocial insects, archetypal colonies contain a single, singly-mated fertile
queen, such that no reproductive conflict exists within a colony. However, many eusocial
insects deviate from this archetype and have multiply-mated queens (polyandry), multiple
queens in a single colony (polygyny), or both. In these cases, reproductive conflict exists
between the matrilines and patrilines represented in a colony, specifically over the
production of sexual offspring. A possible outcome of reproductive conflict may be the
emergence of cheating lineages, which favor the production of sexual offspring, taking
advantage of the worker force produced by nestmate queens and/or patrilines. In extreme
examples, inquiline social parasites may be an evolutionary consequence of reproductive
conflict between nestmate queens. Inquiline social parasitism is a type of social
parasitism that is usually defined by a partial or total loss of the worker caste, and the
“infiltration” of host colonies to take advantage of the host worker force for reproduction.
It has been hypothesized that these inquiline social parasites evolve through the
speciation of cheating queen lineages from within their incipient host species. This “intra-
specific” origin model involves a foundational hypothesis that the common ancestor of
host and parasite (and thus, putatively, the host at the time of speciation) should be
functionally polygynous, and that parasitism evolves as a “resolution” of reproductive
conflict in colonies. In this dissertation, I investigate the hypothesized role of polygyny in the evolution of inquiline social parasites. I use molecular ecology and statistical
approaches to validate the role of polygyny in the evolution of some inquiline social
parasites. I further discuss potential mechanisms for the evolution and speciation of social
parasites, and discuss future directions to elucidate these mechanisms.

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Date Created
2021

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Evolutionary Genetics of CORL Proteins

Description

Transgenic experiments in Drosophila have proven to be a useful tool aiding in the

determination of mammalian protein function. A CNS specific protein, dCORL is a

member of the Sno/Ski family. Sno acts as a switch between Dpp/dActivin signaling.

dCORL is involved in

Transgenic experiments in Drosophila have proven to be a useful tool aiding in the

determination of mammalian protein function. A CNS specific protein, dCORL is a

member of the Sno/Ski family. Sno acts as a switch between Dpp/dActivin signaling.

dCORL is involved in Dpp and dActivin signaling, but the two homologous mCORL

protein functions are unknown. Conducting transgenic experiments in the adult wings,

and third instar larval brains using mCORL1, mCORL2 and dCORL are used to provide

insight into the function of these proteins. These experiments show mCORL1 has a

different function from mCORL2 and dCORL when expressed in Drosophila. mCORL2

and dCORL have functional similarities that are likely conserved. Six amino acid

substitutions between mCORL1 and mCORL2/dCORL may be the reason for the

functional difference. The evolutionary implications of this research suggest the

conservation of a switch between Dpp/dActivin signaling that predates the divergence of

arthropods and vertebrates.

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Date Created
2019