Recognition of caste and mating status maintains monogyny in the ant Aphaenogaster senilis
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- Ruel, C., Hefetz, A., Cerdá, X. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2013) 67: 1295. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1558-x
In ants dispersing through colony fission, queens mate near their natal nest and found a new society with the help of workers. This allows potential future queens to challenge the mother queen’s reproductive monopoly. Conflicts might be resolved if the mated queen signals her presence and the workers control the developmental fate of the diploid larvae (whether they develop to worker or queen). In this study we sought to determine whether, in the fission-performing ant Aphaenogaster senilis, conflicts between queens for control of the colony are resolved by the resident queen signalling her mating status. Virgin queens were less effective than newly mated queens in inhibiting queen rearing. Moreover, potential challenger queens were recognized and heavily aggressed independent of mating status. Chemical analyses showed that mating status was associated with changes in cuticular hydrocarbon and poison gland composition, but not in Dufour’s gland composition. Cuticular dimethylalkanes were identified as potential constituents that signal both caste (present in queens only) and mating status (mated queens have higher amounts). We hypothesised that pheromone emission by virgin queens did not reach the threshold needed to fully inhibit larval development into queens but was sufficiently high to stimulate overt aggression by mated queens. These findings provide evidence for the complexity of chemical communication in social insects, in which a small number of signals may have a variety of effects, depending on the context.