, Volume 61, Issue 9, pp 1449-1457
Date: 21 Mar 2007

“Selfish worker policing” controls reproduction in a Temnothorax ant

Abstract

Animal societies, including those of humans, are under constant threat by selfish individuals, who attempt to enforce their own interests at the cost of the group. In the societies of bees, wasps, and ants, such individual selfishness can be prevented by “policing,” whereby workers or queens impede the reproduction of other individuals by aggression, immobilization, or egg eating. In this study, we report on a particular kind of reproduction control in the ant Temnothorax unifasciatus, which can be considered as a selfish act itself. We experimentally induced workers to lay eggs by dividing several colonies into two halves, one with and one without a queen. In queenless colonies, workers established rank orders by aggression and several top-ranking workers started to reproduce. Upon reunification, egg-laying workers mostly stopped behaving aggressively. They were neither attacked by the queen nor by random workers, but instead received infrequent, nondestructive, targeted aggression from a few workers, most of which became fertile when the queen was later removed. The introduction of differentially stained worker-laid and queen-laid eggs in queenright fragments did not lead to a selective removal of worker-laid eggs. Hence, there appears to be no collective worker policing in T. unifasciatus. Instead, reproduction appears to be controlled mostly through a few attacks from high-ranking workers, which, in this way, might attempt to selfishly increase their chances of future reproduction.

Communicated by L. Keller