Fertility signaling—the proximate mechanism of worker policing in a clonal ant
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- Hartmann, A., D’Ettorre, P., Jones, G.R. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2005) 92: 282. doi:10.1007/s00114-005-0625-1
In eusocial insects, the ability to regulate reproduction relies on cues that signal the presence of fertile individuals. We investigated the variation of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) with reproductive status in Platythyrea punctata, an ant, in which all workers are capable of producing daughters from unfertilized eggs (thelytoky). Who reproduces is determined through dominance and worker policing. New reproductives, which developed their ovaries after separation from an old reproductive for a short period of time, were attacked by nonreproductives upon reintroduction into their colony. In contrast, aggression against new reproductives with fully developed ovaries, which had been separated over a longer period, was initiated by fights between old and new reproductives. CHC profiles varied with ovarian development. New reproductives were only attacked when they expressed a CHC profile similar to old reproductives, but not when it was similar to that of nonreproductives. CHCs appear to signal the fertility of individuals and induce policing behavior towards surplus reproductive workers.