Mating has profound effects on the physiology and behavior of female insects, and in honey bee (Apis mellifera) queens, these changes are permanent. Queens mate with multiple males during a brief period in their early adult lives, and shortly thereafter they initiate egg-laying. Furthermore, the pheromone profiles of mated queens differ from those of virgins, and these pheromones regulate many different aspects of worker behavior and colony organization. While it is clear that mating causes dramatic changes in queens, it is unclear if mating number has more subtle effects on queen physiology or queen-worker interactions; indeed, the effect of multiple matings on female insect physiology has not been broadly addressed. Because it is not possible to control the natural mating behavior of queens, we used instrumental insemination and compared queens inseminated with semen from either a single drone (single-drone inseminated, or SDI) or 10 drones (multi-drone inseminated, or MDI). We used observation hives to monitor attraction of workers to SDI or MDI queens in colonies, and cage studies to monitor the attraction of workers to virgin, SDI, and MDI queen mandibular gland extracts (the main source of queen pheromone). The chemical profiles of the mandibular glands of virgin, SDI, and MDI queens were characterized using GC-MS. Finally, we measured brain expression levels in SDI and MDI queens of a gene associated with phototaxis in worker honey bees (Amfor). Here, we demonstrate for the first time that insemination quantity significantly affects mandibular gland chemical profiles, queen-worker interactions, and brain gene expression. Further research will be necessary to elucidate the mechanistic bases for these effects: insemination volume, sperm and seminal protein quantity, and genetic diversity of the sperm may all be important factors contributing to this profound change in honey bee queen physiology, queen behavior, and social interactions in the colony.
Pheromones mediate social interactions among individuals in a wide variety of species, from yeast to mammals. In social insects such as honey bees, pheromone communication systems can be extraordinarily complex and serve to coordinate behaviors among many individuals. One of the primary mediators of social behavior and organization in honey bee colonies is queen pheromone, which is produced by multiple glands. The types and quantities of chemicals produced differ significantly between virgin and mated queens, and recent studies have suggested that, in newly mated queens, insemination volume or quantity can affect pheromone production. Here, we examine the long-term impact of different factors involved during queen insemination on the chemical composition of the mandibular and Dufour's glands, two of the major sources of queen pheromone. Our results demonstrate that carbon dioxide (an anesthetic used in instrumental insemination), physical manipulation of genital tract (presumably mimicking the act of copulation), insemination substance (saline vs. semen), and insemination volume (1 vs. 8 µl) all have long-term effects on mandibular gland chemical profiles. In contrast, Dufour's gland chemical profiles were changed only upon insemination and were not influenced by exposure to carbon dioxide, manipulation, insemination substance or volume. These results suggest that the chemical contents of these two glands are regulated by different neuro-physiological mechanisms. Furthermore, workers responded differently to the different mandibular gland extracts in a choice assay. Although these studies must be validated in naturally mated queens of varying mating quality, our results suggest that while the chemical composition of Dufour's gland is associated with mating status, that of the mandibular glands is associated with both mating status and insemination success. Thus, the queen appears to be signaling both status and reproductive quality to the workers, which may impact worker behavior and physiology as well as social organization and productivity of the colony.
The molecular mechanisms underlying the post-mating behavioral and physiological transitions undergone by females have not been explored in great detail. Honey bees represent an excellent model system in which to address these questions because they exhibit a range of "mating states," with two extremes (virgins and egg-laying, mated queens) that differ dramatically in their behavior, pheromone profiles, and physiology. We used an incompletely-mated mating-state to understand the molecular processes that underlie the transition from a virgin to a mated, egg-laying queen. We used same-aged virgins, queens that mated once but did not initiate egg-laying, and queens that mated once and initiated egg-laying.
Differences in the behavior and physiology among groups correlated with the underlying variance observed in the top 50 predictive genes in the brains and the ovaries. These changes were correlated with either a behaviorally-associated pattern or a physiologically-associated pattern. Overall, these results suggest that the brains and the ovaries of queens are uncoupled or follow different timescales; the initiation of mating triggers immediate changes in the ovaries, while changes in the brain may require additional stimuli or take a longer time to complete. Comparison of our results to previous studies of post-mating changes in Drosophila melanogaster identified common biological processes affected by mating, including stress response and alternative-splicing pathways. Comparison with microarray data sets related to worker behavior revealed no obvious correlation between genes regulated by mating and genes regulated by behavior/physiology in workers.
Studying the underlying molecular mechanisms of post-mating changes in honey bee queens will not only give us insight into how molecular mechanisms regulate physiological and behavioral changes, but they may also lead to important insights into the evolution of social behavior. Post-mating changes in gene regulation in the brains and ovaries of honey bee queens appear to be triggered by different stimuli and may occur on different timescales, potentially allowing changes in the brains and the ovaries to be uncoupled.
The division of reproductive labor among group members in insect societies is regulated by "queen pheromones". However, it remains controversial whether these are manipulative, i.e., actively suppress worker reproduction, or honestly signal the fertility status of the queen to which workers react in their own interest by refraining from laying eggs. Manipulative queen control is thought to lead to an evolutionary arms race between queens and workers, resulting in complex queen bouquets that diverge strongly among different populations and species. In contrast, honest signals would evolve more slowly and might therefore differ less strongly within and among species.
We aimed at determining the tempo of the evolution of queen signals in two ways. First, we investigated whether queens of Temnothorax ants are capable of controlling egg laying by workers of their own, closely, and distantly related species. Second, we compared the species- and caste-specific patterns of cuticular hydrocarbons, which are assumed to convey information on reproductive status. In mixed-species colonies, queens were not able to fully suppress egg-laying and male production by workers of unrelated species, while workers did not reproduce under the influence of a queen from their own species. Furthermore, the chemical profiles differed more strongly among queens of different species than among the respective workers.
Our results suggest that cuticular hydrocarbons associated with fecundity are not fully conserved in evolution and evolve slightly faster than worker-specific components in the blend of cuticular hydrocarbons. While this higher rate of evolution might reflect an arms race between queens and workers, the observation that workers still respond to the presence of a queen from another species support the honest signal hypothesis. Future studies need to examine alternative explanations for a higher rate of evolution of queen-specific substances, such as an involvement of such compounds in mating.
Worker sterility in honeybees is neither absolute nor irreversible. Whether under queen or worker control, it is likely to be mediated by pheromones. Queen-specific pheromones are not exclusive to queens; workers with activated ovaries also produce them. The association between ovarian activation and queen-like pheromone occurrence suggests the latter as providing a reliable signal of reproductive ability. In this study we investigated the effect of queen pheromones on ovary development and occurrence of queen-like esters in workers' Dufour's gland. Workers separated from the queenright compartment by a double mesh behaved like queenless workers, activating their ovaries and expressing a queen-like Dufour's gland secretion, confirming that the pheromones regulating both systems are non-volatile. Workers with developed ovaries produced significantly more secretion than sterile workers, which we attribute primarily to increased ester production. Workers separated from the queenright compartment by a single mesh displayed a delayed ovarian development, which we attribute to interrupted transfer of the non-volatile pheromone between compartments. We suggest that worker expression of queen-like characters reflects a queen-worker arms race; and that Dufour's gland secretion may provide a reliable signal for ovarian activation. The associative nature between ovary development and Dufour's gland ester production remains elusive.
Queen fecundity is a critical issue for the health of honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies, as she is the only reproductive female in the colony and responsible for the constant renewal of the worker bee population. Any factor affecting the queen's fecundity will stagnate colony development, increasing its susceptibility to opportunistic pathogens. We discovered a pathology affecting the ovaries, characterized by a yellow discoloration concentrated in the apex of the ovaries resulting from degenerative lesions in the follicles. In extreme cases, marked by intense discoloration, the majority of the ovarioles were affected and these cases were universally associated with egg-laying deficiencies in the queens. Microscopic examination of the degenerated follicles showed extensive paracrystal lattices of 30 nm icosahedral viral particles. A cDNA library from degenerated ovaries contained a high frequency of deformed wing virus (DWV) and Varroa destructor virus 1 (VDV-1) sequences, two common and closely related honeybee Iflaviruses. These could also be identified by in situ hybridization in various parts of the ovary. A large-scale survey for 10 distinct honeybee viruses showed that DWV and VDV-1 were by far the most prevalent honeybee viruses in queen populations, with distinctly higher prevalence in mated queens (100% and 67%, respectively for DWV and VDV-1) than in virgin queens (37% and 0%, respectively). Since very high viral titres could be recorded in the ovaries and abdomens of both functional and deficient queens, no significant correlation could be made between viral titre and ovarian degeneration or egg-laying deficiency among the wider population of queens. Although our data suggest that DWV and VDV-1 have a role in extreme cases of ovarian degeneration, infection of the ovaries by these viruses does not necessarily result in ovarian degeneration, even at high titres, and additional factors are likely to be involved in this pathology.
In social insects, the queen is essential to the functioning and homeostasis of the colony. This influence has been demonstrated to be mediated through pheromone communication. However, the only social insect for which any queen pheromone has been identified is the honey bee (Apis mellifera) with its well-known queen mandibular pheromone (QMP). Although pleiotropic effects on colony regulation are accredited to the QMP, this pheromone does not trigger the full behavioral and physiological response observed in the presence of the queen, suggesting the presence of additional compounds. We tested the hypothesis of a pheromone redundancy in honey bee queens by comparing the influence of queens with and without mandibular glands on worker behavior and physiology.
Demandibulated queens had no detectable (E)-9-oxodec-2-enoic acid (9-ODA), the major compound in QMP, yet they controlled worker behavior (cell construction and queen retinue) and physiology (ovary inhibition) as efficiently as intact queens.
We demonstrated that the queen uses other pheromones as powerful as QMP to control the colony. It follows that queens appear to have multiple active compounds with similar functions in the colony (pheromone redundancy). Our findings support two hypotheses in the biology of social insects: (1) that multiple semiochemicals with synonymous meaning exist in the honey bee, (2) that this extensive semiochemical vocabulary exists because it confers an evolutionary advantage to the colony.
Mating is fundamental to most organisms, although the physiological and transcriptional changes associated with this process have been largely characterized only in Drosophila. In this study, we use honey bees as a model system since their queens undergo massive and permanent physiological and behavioral changes following mating. Previous studies have identified changes associated with the transition from a virgin queen to a fully-mated, egg-laying queen. Here, we further uncouple the mating process to examine the effects of natural mating vs. instrumental insemination and saline vs. semen insemination. We observed effects on flight behavior, vitellogenin expression, and significant overlap in transcriptional profiles between our study and analogous studies in Drosophila, suggesting that some post-mating mechanisms are conserved across insect orders.
Group-living species produce signals that alter the behavior and even the physiology of their social partners. Social insects possess especially sophisticated chemical communication systems that govern every aspect of colony life, including the defining feature of eusociality: reproductive division of labor. Current evidence hints at the central importance of queen pheromones, but progress has been hindered by the fact that such pheromones have only been isolated in honeybees. In a pair of papers on the ant Lasius niger, we identified and investigated a queen pheromone regulating worker sterility. The cuticular hydrocarbon 3-methylhentriacontane (3-MeC31) is correlated with queen maturity and fecundity and workers are also more likely to execute surplus queens that have low amounts of this chemical. Experiments with synthetic 3-MeC31 found that it inhibits ovarian development in queenless workers and lowers worker aggression towards objects coated with it. Production of 3-MeC31 by queens was depressed by an experimental immune challenge, and the same chemical was abundant on queenlaid eggs, suggesting that the workers' responses to the queen are conditional on her health and fecundity. Together with other studies, these results indicate that queen pheromones are honest signals of quality that simultaneously regulate multiple social behaviors.
social insect; queen pheromone; fertility signal; cuticular hydrocarbon; social physiology; primer pheromone
Microsatellite genotyping of workers from 13 species (ten genera) of stingless bees shows that genetic relatedness is very high. Workers are usually daughters of a single, singly mated queen. This observation, coupled with the multiple mating of honeybee queens, permits kin selection theory to account for many differences in the social biology of the two taxa. First, in contrast to honeybees, where workers are predicted to and do police each other's male production, stingless bee workers are predicted to compete directly with the queen for rights to produce males. This leads to behavioural and reproductive conflict during oviposition. Second, the risk that a daughter queen will attack the mother queen is higher in honeybees, as is the cost of such an attack to workers. This explains why stingless bees commonly have virgin queens in the nest, but honeybees do not. It also explains why in honeybees the mother queen leaves to found a new nest, while in stingless bees it is the daughter queen who leaves.
The selective forces that shape and maintain eusocial societies are an enduring puzzle in evolutionary biology. Ordinarily sterile workers can usually reproduce given the right conditions, so the factors regulating reproductive division of labour may provide insight into why eusociality has persisted over evolutionary time. Queen-produced pheromones that affect worker reproduction have been implicated in diverse taxa, including ants, termites, wasps and possibly mole rats, but to date have only been definitively identified in the honeybee. Using the black garden ant Lasius niger, we isolate the first sterility-regulating ant queen pheromone. The pheromone is a cuticular hydrocarbon that comprises the majority of the chemical profile of queens and their eggs, and also affects worker behaviour, by reducing aggression towards objects bearing the pheromone. We further show that the pheromone elicits a strong response in worker antennae and that its production by queens is selectively reduced following an immune challenge. These results suggest that the pheromone has a central role in colony organization and support the hypothesis that worker sterility represents altruistic self-restraint in response to an honest quality signal.
social insect; cuticular hydrocarbon; queen signal; Lasius niger; handicap
In most species of social insect the queen signals her presence to her workers via pheromones. Worker responses to queen pheromones include retinue formation around the queen, inhibition of queen cell production and suppression of worker ovary activation. Here we show that the queen signal of the Brazilian stingless bee Friesella schrottkyi is a mixture of cuticular hydrocarbons. Stingless bees are therefore similar to ants, wasps and bumble bees, but differ from honey bees in which the queen's signal mostly comprises volatile compounds originating from the mandibular glands. This shows that cuticular hydrocarbons have independently evolved as the queen's signal across multiple taxa, and that the honey bees are exceptional. We also report the distribution of four active queen-signal compounds by Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) imaging. The results indicate a relationship between the behavior of workers towards the queen and the likely site of secretion of the queen's pheromones.
Experiments under controlled laboratory conditions can produce decisive evidence for testing biological hypotheses, provided they are representative of the more complex natural conditions. However, whether this requirement is fulfilled is seldom tested explicitly. Here we provide a lab/field comparison to investigate the identity of an egg-marking signal of ant queens. Our study was based on ant workers resolving conflict over male production by destroying each other's eggs, but leaving queen eggs unharmed. For this, the workers need a proximate cue to discriminate between the two egg types. Earlier correlative evidence indicated that, in the ant Pachycondyla inversa, the hydrocarbon 3,11-dimethylheptacosane (3,11-diMeC27) is more abundant on the surface of queen-laid eggs.
We first tested the hypothesis that 3,11-diMeC27 functions as a queen egg-marking pheromone using laboratory-maintained colonies. We treated worker-laid eggs with synthetic 3,11-diMeC27 and found that they were significantly more accepted than sham-treated worker-laid eggs. However, we repeated the experiment with freshly collected field colonies and observed no effect of treating worker-laid eggs with 3,11-diMeC27, showing that this compound by itself is not the natural queen egg-marking pheromone. We subsequently investigated the overall differences of entire chemical profiles of eggs, and found that queen-laid eggs in field colonies are more distinct from worker-laid eggs than in lab colonies, have more variation in profiles, and have an excess of longer-chain hydrocarbons.
Our results suggest that queen egg-marking signals are significantly affected by transfer to the laboratory, and that this change is possibly connected to reduced queen fertility as predicted by honest signaling theory. This change is reflected in the worker egg policing response under field and laboratory conditions.
Depending on their larval environment, female honeybees develop into either queens or workers. As in other polyphenisms, this developmental switch depends not on genomic differences between queens and workers but on the differential expression of entire suites of genes involved with larval fate. As such, this and other polyphenic systems can provide a novel tool for understanding how genomes and environmental conditions interact to produce different developmental trajectories. Here we use gene-expression profiles during honeybee caste determination to present the first genomic view of polyphenic development.
Larvae raised as queens or workers differed greatly in their gene-expression patterns. Workers remained more faithful than queens to the expression profiles of younger, bipotential, larvae. Queens appeared to both downregulate many of the genes expressed by bipotential larvae and turn on a distinct set of caste-related genes. Queens overexpressed several metabolic enzymes, workers showed increased expression of a member of the cytochrome P450 family, hexameric storage proteins and dihydrodiol dehydrogenase, and young larvae overexpressed two putative heat-shock proteins (70 and 90 kDa), and several proteins related to RNA processing and translation.
Large differences in gene expression between queens and workers indicate that social insect castes have faced strong directional selection pressures. Overexpression of metabolic enzymes by queen-destined larvae appears to reflect the enhanced growth rate of queens during late larval development. Many of the differently expressed genes we identified have been tied to metabolic rates and cellular responses to hormones, a result consistent with known physiological differences between queen and worker larvae.
Many animals face some form of conflict over reproductive opportunities. Queen selection in social insect colonies represents a high-stakes conflict where competition occurs among multiple queens for a few or a single reproductive role(s). The outcome of the contest is critical to the fitness of all colony individuals as most are sterile, and thus represents a conflict at multiple levels. Aphaenogaster senilis is a monogynous, monandrous, fission performing ant, in which queen selection occurs during colony fission and when replacement queens are produced to overcome orphaning. First-born queens are usually behaviourally dominant over subsequent queens, and eventually inherit the colony. We investigated the importance of physical dominance in queen selection in orphaned groups by manipulating the fighting ability of first-born queens via mandibular ablation.
First emerged queens were heavier than second emerged queens, performed almost all aggression, were behaviourally dominant 92% of the time, and prevailed in 76% of groups after co-existing for 16 days on average. Mandibular ablation had no effect on queen behaviour or contest outcome.
Aggression is probably ritualised and contests are decided by workers based on relative queen fertility. First-born queens thus have an inherent advantage over second-born queens as they have more time to develop ovaries. Subordinates never retaliated against aggression from dominants and this lack of retaliation can be interpreted as a form of bourgeois strategy as dominants were almost always first-born. However, the lack of alternative reproductive options makes not-fighting effectively a form of suicide. High relatedness between full-sister queens means that subordinates may be better off sacrificing themselves than risking injury to both queens by fighting.
Growing empirical evidence indicates that invertebrates become more resistant to a pathogen following initial exposure to a nonlethal dose; yet the generality, mechanisms, and adaptive value of such immune priming are still under debate. Because life-history theory predicts that immune priming and large investment in immunity should be more frequent in long-lived species, we here tested for immune priming and pathogen resistance in ant queens, which have extraordinarily long life span. We exposed virgin and mated queens of Lasius niger and Formica selysi to a low dose of the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana, before challenging them with a high dose of the same pathogen. We found evidence for immune priming in naturally mated queens of L. niger. In contrast, we found no sign of priming in virgin queens of L. niger, nor in virgin or experimentally mated queens of F. selysi, which indicates that immune priming in ant queens varies according to mating status and mating conditions or species. In both ant species, mated queens showed higher pathogen resistance than virgin queens, which suggests that mating triggers an up-regulation of the immune system. Overall, mated ant queens combine high reproductive output, very long life span, and elevated investment in immune defense. Hence, ant queens are able to invest heavily in both reproduction and maintenance, which can be explained by the fact that mature queens will be protected and nourished by their worker offspring.
formicine ants; immune priming; immunity; life-history; life span; mating
Worker honeybees (Apis mellifera) usually only lay eggs when their colony is queenless. However, an extremely rare 'anarchistic' phenotype occurs, in which workers develop functional ovaries and lay large numbers of haploid eggs which develop into adult drones despite the presence of the queen. Studies of such colonies can give important insights into the mechanisms by which worker sterility is maintained in normal colonies. Here we report on the results of a breeding programme which enhanced the frequency of the anarchistic phenotype. Colonies derived from queens inseminated only by worker-laid males showed up to 9% of workers with highly developed ovaries. In these colonies a large proportion of males arose from worker-laid eggs. Colonies headed by queens inseminated with 50% worker-laid drones and 50% queen-laid drones showed variable phenotypes. In most such colonies there was no worker reproduction. In some, many workers had highly developed ovaries, but no worker-laid eggs were reared. In one colony, many worker-laid eggs were reared to maturity. The results suggest that the anarchy phenotype results from a complex interaction of queen genotype, the worker genotype of subfamilies that successfully reproduce and of those that do not, and the external environment.
In beekeeping, queen honey bees are often temporarily kept alive in cages. We determined the survival of newly-emerged virgin honey bee queens every day for seven days in an experiment that simultaneously investigated three factors: queen cage type (wooden three-hole or plastic), attendant workers (present or absent) and food type (sugar candy, honey, or both). Ten queens were tested in each of the 12 combinations. Queens were reared using standard beekeeping methods (Doolittle/grafting) and emerged from their cells into vials held in an incubator at 34C. All 12 combinations gave high survival (90 or 100%) for three days but only one method (wooden cage, with attendants, honey) gave 100% survival to day seven. Factors affecting queen survival were analysed. Across all combinations, attendant bees significantly increased survival (18% vs. 53%, p<0.001). In addition, there was an interaction between food type and cage type (p<0.001) with the honey and plastic cage combination giving reduced survival. An additional group of queens was reared and held for seven days using the best method, and then directly introduced using smoke into queenless nucleus colonies that had been dequeened five days previously. Acceptance was high (80%, 8/10) showing that this combination is also suitable for preparing queens for introduction into colonies. Having a simple method for keeping newly-emerged virgin queens alive in cages for one week and acceptable for introduction into queenless colonies will be useful in honey bee breeding. In particular, it facilitates the screening of many queens for genetic or phenotypic characteristics when only a small proportion meets the desired criteria. These can then be introduced into queenless hives for natural mating or insemination, both of which take place when queens are one week old.
In social insects, resource allocation is a key factor that influences colony survival and growth. Optimal allocation to queens and brood is essential for maximum colony productivity, requiring colony members to have information on the total reproductive power in colonies. However, the mechanisms regulating egg production relative to the current labour force for brood care remain poorly known. Recently, a volatile chemical was identified as a termite queen pheromone that inhibits the differentiation of new neotenic reproductives (secondary reproductives developed from nymphs or workers) in Reticulitermes speratus. The same volatile chemical is also emitted by eggs. This queen pheromone would therefore be expected to act as an honest message of the reproductive power about queens. In this study, we examined how the queen pheromone influences the reproductive rate of queens in R. speratus. We compared the number of eggs produced by each queen between groups with and without exposure to artificial queen pheromone. Exposure to the pheromone resulted in a significant decrease in egg production in both single-queen and multiple-queen groups. This is the first report supporting the role of queen pheromones as a signal regulating colony-level egg production, using synthetically derived compounds in a termite.
queen pheromone; egg production; termites; resource allocation
One of the fundamental questions in biology is how cooperative and altruistic behaviors evolved. The majority of studies seeking to identify the genes regulating these behaviors have been performed in systems where behavioral and physiological differences are relatively fixed, such as in the honey bee. During colony founding in the monogyne (one queen per colony) social form of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta, newly-mated queens may start new colonies either individually (haplometrosis) or in groups (pleometrosis). However, only one queen (the “winner”) in pleometrotic associations survives and takes the lead of the young colony while the others (the “losers”) are executed. Thus, colony founding in fire ants provides an excellent system in which to examine the genes underpinning cooperative behavior and how the social environment shapes the expression of these genes. We developed a new whole genome microarray platform for S. invicta to characterize the gene expression patterns associated with colony founding behavior. First, we compared haplometrotic queens, pleometrotic winners and pleometrotic losers. Second, we manipulated pleometrotic couples in order to switch or maintain the social ranks of the two cofoundresses. Haplometrotic and pleometrotic queens differed in the expression of genes involved in stress response, aging, immunity, reproduction and lipid biosynthesis. Smaller sets of genes were differentially expressed between winners and losers. In the second experiment, switching social rank had a much greater impact on gene expression patterns than the initial/final rank. Expression differences for several candidate genes involved in key biological processes were confirmed using qRT-PCR. Our findings indicate that, in S. invicta, social environment plays a major role in the determination of the patterns of gene expression, while the queen's physiological state is secondary. These results highlight the powerful influence of social environment on regulation of the genomic state, physiology and ultimately, social behavior of animals.
The characterization of the genomic basis for complex behaviors is one of the major goals of biological research. The genomic state of an individual results from the interplay between its internal condition (the “nature”) and the external environment (the “nurture”), which may include the social environment. Colony founding in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta is a complex process that serves as a useful model for investigating how the interplay between genes and social environment shapes social behavior. Unrelated, newly mated S. invicta queens may start a new colony as a group, but ultimately only one queen will survive and gain full reproductive dominance. By uncovering the genetic basis for founding behavior in fire ants we therefore provide useful insights into how cooperative behavior evolved in a context that might be considered primitively eusocial, because newly mated queens in a founding association are morphologically, physiologically and genetically very similar and display no evident division of labor. Our results suggest that social environment (founding singly or in pairs, switching dominance rank vs. maintaining rank) is a much greater driver of gene expression changes than social rank itself, suggesting that social environment, and not reproductive state, is a key regulator of gene expression, physiology and ultimately, behavior.
The arboreal ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi Emery (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), is the most dominant arboreal ant in the pine forests of the coastal plain of northern Florida. The majority of pine trees harbor a colony of these ants. The colonies inhabit multiple chambers abandoned by bark-mining caterpillars, especially those of the family Cossidae, in the outer bark of living pines. They also inhabit ground level termite galleries in the bark, often locating the queen in galleries. The density of chambers and ants is highest in the base of the tree and drops sharply with height on the trunk. Because chambers are formed in the inner layer of bark, they gradually move outward as more bark layers are laid down, eventually sloughing off the tree's outer surface. Chambers have a mean lifetime of about 25 yr. The abundant chambers in pine bark are excavated by a small population of caterpillars and accumulate over decades. Ant colonies also inhabit abandoned galleries of woodboring beetles in dead branches in the crowns of pines. Because newly mated queens found colonies in abandoned woodboring beetle galleries in the first dead branches that form on pine saplings, C. ashmeadi is dependent on cavities made by other insects throughout its life cycle, and does little if any excavation of its own. Mature colonies nest preferentially in chambers greater than 10 cm2 in area, a relatively rare chamber size. In natural pine forests, this does not seem to limit the ant's populations.
Founding queens containabout 50% fat and lose about half of their dry weight during the claustral period, converting approximately half of this lost weight into progeny. The claustral period is about 40 to 50 days at 27°C. Mature colonies contain several tens of thousands of workers (est. up to 80,000), and have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. Each colony occupies an entire tree, and sometimes two trees if they are close together. Within a colony, there is a single queen capable of laying up to 450 eggs/day during the warm season. Such queens weigh 12 to 18 mg, have 50 to 60 active ovarioles and 120 to 600 vitellogenic oocytes in their ovaries.
Mature colonies begin producing sexual brood in late April or early May. Sexual adults are present from late May through June. Mating flights commence in June and most sexuals have left their natal nests by late July. Female sexuals are an especially large investment; the energetic content of a single, flight-ready female sexual is almost 20 times that of a worker. The newly mated queen sequesters a mean of 2.64 × 106 sperm in her spermatheca, a supply that should last her for 16 years at the observed reproductive rates.
Formicidae; nest chambers; arboreal ants; colony founding; seasonality; colony longevity; Cossidae; Givira francesca (Dyar); Buprestidae; Cerambicidae; woodboring beetles; longleaf pine; slash pine; Pinus palustris; Pinus elliotti; red-cockaded woodpecker
Social insects offer unique opportunities to test predictions regarding the evolution of cooperation, life histories and communication. Colony founding by groups of unrelated queens, some of which are later killed, may select for selfish reproductive strategies, honest signalling and punishment. Here, we use a brood transfer experiment to test whether cofounding queens of the ant Lasius niger ‘selfishly’ adjust their productivity when sharing the nest with future competitors. We simultaneously analysed queen cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles to investigate whether queens honestly signal their reproductive output or produce dishonest, manipulative signals, providing a novel test of the evolutionary significance of queen pheromones. Queens produced fewer workers when their colony contained ample brood, but only in the presence of competitors, suggesting selfish conservation of resources. Several CHCs correlated with reproductive maturation, and to a lesser extent with productivity; the same hydrocarbons were more abundant on queens that were not killed, suggesting that workers select productive queens using these chemical cues. Our results highlight the role of honest signalling in the evolution of cooperation: whenever cheaters can be reliably identified, they may incur sanctions that reduce the incentive to be selfish.
social insect; queen pheromone; trade-off; cooperation; coercion; sanctions
Social insect workers are often capable of reproduction, but will not do so in the presence of a fertile queen. In large societies, queens are expected to produce a pheromone that honestly signals her dominance and/or fertility, to which workers respond by suppressing the development of their ovaries and by preventing other workers from reproducing (worker policing). However, what maintains the honesty of such queen pheromones is still under discussion. The explanation that an honest queen signal evolves simply because it serves the interest of all colony members does not seem to hold, since it is undermined by the fitness benefits of direct reproduction of workers at the individual level. A better explanation may be found in the idea that queen pheromones are difficult to produce for subordinate individuals, either because policing workers attack them, or because queen pheromones are intrinsically costly chemicals. Here, I discuss some of the arguments for and against these hypotheses and the evolutionary scenarios that each would lead to.
social insects; queen pheromone; honest signals; division of labor; worker policing
Reproductive competition in social insects is generally mediated through specific fertility pheromones. By analysing Dufour's gland secretion in queens and workers of Bombus terrestris under varying social conditions, we demonstrate here that the volatile constituents of the secretion exhibit a context-dependent composition. The secretion of egg-laying queens is composed of a series of aliphatic hydrocarbons (alkanes and alkenes), while that of sterile workers contains in addition octyl esters, dominated by octyl hexadecanoate and octyl oleate. These esters disappear in workers with developed ovaries, whether queenright (QR) or queenless (QL), rendering their secretion queen-like. This constitutes an unusual case in which the sterile caste, rather than the fertile one, possesses extra components. Individually isolated (socially deprived) workers developed ovaries successfully, but failed to oviposit, and still possessed the octyl esters. Thus, whereas social interactions are not needed in order to develop ovaries, they appear essential for oviposition and compositional changes in Dufour's gland secretion (ester disappearance). The apparent link between high ester levels and an inability to lay eggs lends credence to the hypothesis that these esters signal functional sterility. We hypothesize that by producing a sterility-specific secretion, workers signal that ‘I am out of the competition’, and therefore are not attacked, either by the queen or by the reproductive workers. This enables proper colony function and brood care, in particular sexual brood, even under the chaotic conditions of the competition phase.
Bombus terrestris; Dufour gland; reproduction; workers' sterility; fertility signals
Variation in individual behavior within social groups can affect the fitness of the group as well as the individual, and can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the molecular factors associated with individual variation in social behavior remain relatively unexplored. We used honey bees (Apis mellifera) as a model to examine differences in socially-regulated behavior among individual workers, and used transcriptional profiling to determine if specific gene expression patterns are associated with these individual differences. In honey bees, the reproductive queen produces a pheromonal signal that regulates many aspects of worker behavior and physiology and maintains colony organization.
Here, we demonstrate that there is substantial natural variation in individual worker attraction to queen pheromone (QMP). Furthermore, worker attraction is negatively correlated with ovariole number—a trait associated with reproductive potential in workers. We identified transcriptional differences in the adult brain associated with individual worker attraction to QMP, and identified hundreds of transcripts that are organized into statistically-correlated gene networks and associated with this response.
Our studies demonstrate that there is substantial variation in worker attraction to QMP among individuals, and that this variation is linked with specific differences in physiology and brain gene expression patterns. This variation in individual response thresholds may reveal underlying variation in queen-worker reproductive conflict, and may mediate colony function and productivity by creating variation in individual task performance.