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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 245–255 | Cite as

Do these eggs smell funny to you?: an experimental study of egg discrimination by hosts of the social parasite Polyergus breviceps (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

  • Christine A. JohnsonEmail author
  • Howard Topoff
  • Robert K. Vander Meer
  • Barry Lavine
Original Article

Abstract

Social parasites exploit the behaviours of other social species. Infiltration of host systems involves a variety of mechanisms depending on the conditions within the host society and the needs of the social parasite. For many species of socially parasitic ants, colony establishment entails the usurpation of colonies of other species. This frequently involves the eviction or death of the host colony queen and the subsequent adoption of the invading queen. The social parasite queen achieves host worker acceptance by either manipulating the nest-mate recognition processes of the host or undergoing chemical modification. Little is known, however, about how host workers respond to social parasite eggs or whether host species defend against brood parasitism during parasite invasions. Host species are believed to adopt social parasite offspring because the recent common ancestry between many social parasites and their hosts may grant the sharing of certain characteristics such as chemical cues. Use of multiple host species, however, suggests other processes are needed for the social bond between host and parasite young to form. This study reports the findings of adoption bioassays in which eggs from a slave-maker ant, Polyergus breviceps, were offered to workers of two of its host species from unparasitised or newly parasitised nests to determine whether P. breviceps eggs generally elicit rearing behaviours from multiple host species. Comparisons of parasite egg survival until adulthood with conspecific egg survival reveal that workers of both host species, free-living or newly enslaved, do not typically accept slave-maker eggs. Both host species thus have sufficient discriminatory power to reject social parasite eggs although our hydrocarbon analysis indicates parasite eggs may be adapted to their local host species. Combined these results suggest that host rearing of P. breviceps eggs may reflect an evolutionary equilibrium that is maintained by probability and cost of recognition errors.

Keywords

Dependent colony founding Colony integration Local adaptation Co-evolutionary processes Formica 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Field research was conducted at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) of the American Museum of Natural History, Portal, Ariz. Behavioural tests were conducted at SWRS, Hunter College, New York, N.Y. and the American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y. The chemical analyses were carried out at the Medical and Veterinary Entomology Research Laboratory of the United States Department of Agriculture. We thank Michele Hosack for her assistance in the chemical laboratory, Erica Gallegos for her assistance with initial nest egg monitoring, James Carpenter for comments on an early version of the manuscript, and David Nash, Lotta Sundström, Alain Lenoir, two anonymous reviewers and Joan Herbers and her laboratory for comments on a later version of the manuscript. Parts of this research were aided by grants from the Animal Behavior Society, Sigma Xi, Southwestern Research Station Student Support Fund, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund and by a fellowship from the Biopsychology subprogram at Hunter College to C.A. Johnson.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine A. Johnson
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Howard Topoff
    • 1
  • Robert K. Vander Meer
    • 2
  • Barry Lavine
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Medical and Veterinary Entomology Research Laboratory, Agricultural Research ServiceUnited States Department of AgricultureGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of ChemistryClarkson UniversityPotsdamUSA
  4. 4.Department of Evolution Ecology and Organismal BiologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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