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Cuticular Hydrocarbon Pheromones for Social Behavior and Their Coding in the Ant Antenna

Description

The sophisticated organization of eusocial insect societies is largely based on the regulation of complex behaviors by hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle. We used electrophysiology to investigate the detection

The sophisticated organization of eusocial insect societies is largely based on the regulation of complex behaviors by hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle. We used electrophysiology to investigate the detection of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) by female-specific olfactory sensilla basiconica on the antenna of Camponotus floridanus ants through the utilization of one of the largest family of odorant receptors characterized so far in insects. These sensilla, each of which contains multiple olfactory receptor neurons, are differentially sensitive to CHCs and allow them to be classified into three broad groups that collectively detect every hydrocarbon tested, including queen and worker-enriched CHCs. This broad-spectrum sensitivity is conserved in a related species, Camponotus laevigatus, allowing these ants to detect CHCs from both nestmates and non-nestmates. Behavioral assays demonstrate that these ants are excellent at discriminating CHCs detected by the antenna, including enantiomers of a candidate queen pheromone that regulates the reproductive division of labor.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2015-08-13

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Mechanisms of social regulation change across colony development in an ant

Description

Background
Mutual policing is an important mechanism for reducing conflict in cooperative groups. In societies of ants, bees, and wasps, mutual policing of worker reproduction can evolve when workers are

Background
Mutual policing is an important mechanism for reducing conflict in cooperative groups. In societies of ants, bees, and wasps, mutual policing of worker reproduction can evolve when workers are more closely related to the queen's sons than to the sons of workers or when the costs of worker reproduction lower the inclusive fitness of workers. During colony growth, relatedness within the colony remains the same, but the costs of worker reproduction may change. The costs of worker reproduction are predicted to be greatest in incipient colonies. If the costs associated with worker reproduction outweigh the individual direct benefits to workers, policing mechanisms as found in larger colonies may be absent in incipient colonies.
Results
We investigated policing behaviour across colony growth in the ant Camponotus floridanus. In large colonies of this species, worker reproduction is policed by the destruction of worker-laid eggs. We found workers from incipient colonies do not exhibit policing behaviour, and instead tolerate all conspecific eggs. The change in policing behaviour is consistent with changes in egg surface hydrocarbons, which provide the informational basis for policing; eggs laid by queens from incipient colonies lack the characteristic hydrocarbons on the surface of eggs laid by queens from large colonies, making them chemically indistinguishable from worker-laid eggs. We also tested the response to fertility information in the context of queen tolerance. Workers from incipient colonies attacked foreign queens from large colonies; whereas workers from large colonies tolerated such queens. Workers from both incipient and large colonies attacked foreign queens from incipient colonies.
Conclusions
Our results provide novel insights into the regulation of worker reproduction in social insects at both the proximate and ultimate levels. At the proximate level, our results show that mechanisms of social regulation, such as the response to fertility signals, change dramatically over a colony's life cycle. At the ultimate level, our results emphasize the importance of factors besides relatedness in predicting the level of conflict within a colony. Our results also suggest policing may not be an important regulatory force at every stage of colony development. Changes relating to the life cycle of the colony are sufficient to account for major differences in social regulation in an insect colony. Mechanisms of conflict mediation observed in one phase of a social group's development cannot be generalized to all stages.

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Date Created
  • 2010-10-27

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Egg policing and fertility signaling across colony development in the ant Camponotus floridanus

Description

Of all the signals and cues that orchestrate the activities of a social insect colony, the reproductives' fertility pheromones are perhaps the most fundamental. These pheromones regulate reproductive division of

Of all the signals and cues that orchestrate the activities of a social insect colony, the reproductives' fertility pheromones are perhaps the most fundamental. These pheromones regulate reproductive division of labor, a defining characteristic of eusociality. Despite their critical role, reproductive fertility pheromones are not evenly expressed across the development of a social insect colony and may even be absent in the earliest colony stages. In the ant Camponotus floridanus, queens of incipient colonies do not produce the cuticular hydrocarbons that serve as fertility and egg-marking signals in this species. My dissertation investigates the consequences of the dramatic change in the quantity of these pheromones that occurs as the colony grows. C. floridanus workers from large, established colonies use egg surface hydrocarbons to discriminate among eggs. Eggs with surface hydrocarbons typical of eggs laid by established queens are nurtured, whereas eggs lacking these signals (i.e., eggs laid by workers and incipient queens) are destroyed. I characterized how workers from incipient colonies responded to eggs lacking queen fertility hydrocarbons. I found that established-queen-laid eggs, incipient-queen-laid eggs, and worker-laid eggs were not destroyed by workers at this colony stage. Destruction of worker-laid eggs is a form of policing, and theoretical models predict that policing should be strongest in incipient colonies. Since there was no evidence of policing by egg-eating in incipient C. floridanus colonies, I searched for evidence of another policing mechanism at this colony stage. Finding none, I discuss reasons why policing behavior may not be expressed in incipient colonies. I then considered the mechanism that accounts for the change in workers' response to eggs. By manipulating ants' egg experience and testing their egg-policing decisions, I found that ants use a combination of learned and innate criteria to discriminate between targets of care and destruction. Finally, I investigated how the increasing strength of queen-fertility hydrocarbons affects nestmate recognition, which also relies on cuticular hydrocarbons. I found that queens with strong fertility hydrocarbons can be transferred between established colonies without aggression, but they cannot be introduced into incipient colonies. Queens from incipient colonies cannot be transferred into incipient or established colonies.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2012