Early learning of volatile chemical cues leads to interspecific recognition between two ant species
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- Errard, C., Guisquet, AM.L., Christidès, JP. et al. Insect. Soc. (2008) 55: 115. doi:10.1007/s00040-008-0979-4
Nestmate recognition in social insects generally involves matching a label to the template that is acquired through the early learning of non-volatile cuticular hydrocarbon cues. However, a possible role of the volatile chemical cues that exist in the nest, and which may also affect template formation, has not been studied. We investigated this possibility using experimental mixedspecies groups composed of the two ant species Manica rubida and Formica selysi. The experimental set-up either allowed full contact between workers of the two species or interspecific contact was hindered or prohibited by a single or a double mesh. After three months, workers of M. rubida ants were selected as focal ants for aggression tests including the following target ants: F. selysi workers from the same mixed-species group (for each of the three rearing conditions) or from a single-species group (control). Workers of M. rubida were always amicable towards their group-mates, irrespective of the experimental group (contact, single or double mesh). However, M. rubida that were not imprinted on F. selysi, expressed high levels of aggression towards the non-familiar F. selysi workers. The finding that F. selysi workers in the mixed-species groups appeared familiar to their M. rubida group-mates even without physical contact between them, suggests that the volatile cues produced by F. selysi affected nestmate recognition in M. rubida. In an attempt to identify these volatile cues we performed SPME analysis of the head space over groups of F. selysi workers. The findings revealed that F. selysi Dufour’s gland constituents, with undecane as the major product, are released into the head space, rendering them likely candidates to affect template formation in M. rubida. Analysis of Dufour’s gland secretion of F. selysi revealed a series of volatile alkanes, including undecane as a major product. These alkanes were not present in the glandular secretion of M. rubida, whose secretion was mainly composed of isomers of farnesene. We therefore hypothesize that callow M. rubida workers in the mixed-species groups had become imprinted by the above alkanes (in particular undecane, being the major heterospecific volatile in the head space) and incorporated them into their own template.