Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 285–291 | Cite as

Early developmental processes limit socially mediated phenotypic plasticity in an ant

  • Irene Villalta
  • Olivier Blight
  • Elena Angulo
  • Xim Cerdá
  • Raphaël Boulay
Original Article


Caste determination in social insects has long been considered to exemplify socially mediated phenotypic plasticity: young larvae can develop into queens or workers depending on the social environment. However, recent studies have challenged this view by showing that, in some species, larval development can be biased early by factors such as larval genotype. We analyzed this issue in the ant species Aphaenogaster senilis. First, we found that the probability that a larva develops into a queen or a worker varies consistently among colonies. Next, we conducted a cross-fostering experiment in which larvae from colonies with relatively low queen production were transferred to colonies with relatively high queen production and vice versa. The results show a strong significant interaction between early determination and worker control of larval caste fate. Therefore, our study shows that socially mediated phenotypic plasticity is limited by processes occurring at an early developmental stage that possibly include direct or indirect genetic effects or non-genetic maternal effects.


Social behavior Caste development Phenotypic plasticity Colony level selection 



We thank Ines Ocon Santamaria and Séverine Devers for their help with the experiments and Jessica Pearce for her English editing services. We thank Claudie Doums and three anonymous referees for their comments on an early version of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

This study was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the FEDER (CGL2012-36181).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

265_2015_2052_MOESM1_ESM.docx (36 kb)
Figure S1 Proportion of queens produced among the female pupae in function of the colony size (original number of workers in the colony). Red and black triangles are HWinter and LWinter, respectively: colonies with relatively high and low queen production in winter. Blue and green circles are HSpring and LSpring, respectively: colonies with relatively high and low queen production in spring. (DOCX 36 kb)
265_2015_2052_MOESM2_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Table S1 Results of the experiment 1 showing the total production of females (=FEM) and the proportion of queens among the females (P(Q)) in different colonies collected in winter and spring as a function of the colony size (initial number of workers), queen weight (in mg), and the number of surviving workers. (DOCX 23 kb)
265_2015_2052_MOESM3_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Table S2 Results of the experiment 2 showing the total production of females (=FEM) and the proportion of queens among the females (P(Q)) in six different experimental conditions (treatment). H colonies with high queen production in experiment 1, L colonies with low queen production in experiment 1, Control larvae of the same colony as the workers. (DOCX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irene Villalta
    • 1
    • 2
  • Olivier Blight
    • 1
    • 3
  • Elena Angulo
    • 1
  • Xim Cerdá
    • 1
  • Raphaël Boulay
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Estación Biológica de Doñana – CSICSevillaSpain
  2. 2.Institut de Recherches sur la Biologie de l’Insecte, CNRS UMR 7261Université François Rabelais de ToursToursFrance
  3. 3.Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d’Ecologie, Université d’Avignon et des Pays de VaucluseUMR CNRS IRD Aix Marseille UniversitéAvignonFrance

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