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1.  Asexual queen succession in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes virginicus 
Termite colonies are founded by a pair of primary reproductives. In many species, including subterranean termites (family Rhinotermitidae), the primary king and queen can be succeeded by neotenic reproductives that are produced from workers or nymphs within the colony. It is generally believed that these neotenics inbreed within the colony, sometimes for many generations. Here, we show that primary queens of the North American subterranean termite, Reticulitermes virginicus, are replaced by numerous parthenogenetically produced female neotenics. We collected functional female neotenics from five colonies of R. virginicus in North Carolina and Texas, USA. Genetic analysis at eight microsatellite loci showed that 91–100% of the neotenics present within a colony were homozygous at all loci, indicating that they were produced through automictic parthenogenesis with terminal fusion. In contrast, workers, soldiers and alates were almost exclusively sexually produced by mating between the female neotenics and a single king. This is the second termite species shown to undergo asexual queen succession, a system first described in the Japanese species, Reticulitermes speratus. Thus, the conditional use of sexual and asexual reproduction to produce members of different castes may be widespread within Reticulitermes and possibly other subterranean termites.
doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1030
PMCID: PMC3248721  PMID: 21831899
parthenogenesis; inbreeding; caste differentiation; microsatellite; breeding system
2.  Queen pheromone regulates egg production in a termite 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):727-729.
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.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0353
PMCID: PMC3169079  PMID: 21543395
queen pheromone; egg production; termites; resource allocation
3.  The Antibacterial Protein Lysozyme Identified as the Termite Egg Recognition Pheromone 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e813.
Social insects rely heavily on pheromone communication to maintain their sociality. Egg protection is one of the most fundamental social behaviours in social insects. The recent discovery of the termite-egg mimicking fungus ‘termite-ball’ and subsequent studies on termite egg protection behaviour have shown that termites can be manipulated by using the termite egg recognition pheromone (TERP), which strongly evokes the egg-carrying and -grooming behaviours of workers. Despite the great scientific and economic importance, TERP has not been identified because of practical difficulties. Herein we identified the antibacterial protein lysozyme as the TERP. We isolated the target protein using ion-exchange and hydrophobic interaction chromatography, and the MALDI-TOF MS analysis showed a molecular size of 14.5 kDa. We found that the TERP provided antibacterial activity against a gram-positive bacterium. Among the currently known antimicrobial proteins, the molecular size of 14.5 kDa limits the target to lysozyme. Termite lysozymes obtained from eggs and salivary glands, and even hen egg lysozyme, showed a strong termite egg recognition activity. Besides eggs themselves, workers also supply lysozyme to eggs through frequent egg-grooming, by which egg surfaces are coated with saliva containing lysozyme. Reverse transcript PCR analysis showed that mRNA of termite lysozyme was expressed in both salivary glands and eggs. Western blot analysis confirmed that lysozyme production begins in immature eggs in queen ovaries. This is the first identification of proteinaceous pheromone in social insects. Researchers have focused almost exclusively on hydrocarbons when searching for recognition pheromones in social insects. The present finding of a proteinaceous pheromone represents a major step forward in, and result in the broadening of, the search for recognition pheromones. This novel function of lysozyme as a termite pheromone illuminates the profound influence of pathogenic microbes on the evolution of social behaviour in termites.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000813
PMCID: PMC1950569  PMID: 17726543
4.  Termite-egg mimicry by a sclerotium-forming fungus 
Mimicry has evolved in a wide range of organisms and encompasses diverse tactics for defence, foraging, pollination and social parasitism. Here, I report an extraordinary case of egg mimicry by a fungus, whereby the fungus gains competitor-free habitat in termite nests. Brown fungal balls, called ‘termite balls’, are frequently found in egg piles of Reticulitermes termites. Phylogenetic analysis illustrated that termite-ball fungi isolated from different hosts (Reticulitermes speratus, Reticulitermes flavipes and Reticulitermes virginicus) were all very similar, with no significant molecular differences among host species or geographical locations. I found no significant effect of termite balls on egg survivorship. The termite-ball fungus rarely kills termite eggs in natural colonies. Even a termite species (Reticulitermes okinawanus) with no natural association with the fungus tended termite balls along with its eggs when it was experimentally provided with termite balls. Dummy-egg bioassays using glass beads showed that both morphological and chemical camouflage were necessary to induce tending by termites. Termites almost exclusively tended termite balls with diameters that exactly matched their egg size. Moreover, scanning electron microscopic observations revealed sophisticated mimicry of the smooth surface texture of eggs. These results provide clear evidence that this interaction is beneficial only for the fungus, i.e. termite balls parasitically mimic termite eggs.
doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3434
PMCID: PMC1560272  PMID: 16720392
egg recognition; mimicry; termites; sclerotia; insect–fungus interaction

Results 1-4 (4)