Cuticular Hydrocarbon Composition Reflects Genetic Relationship Among Colonies of the Introduced Termite Reticulitermes santonensis Feytaud

  • Stéphanie Dronnet
  • Caroline Lohou
  • Jean-Philippe Christides
  • Anne-Geneviève Bagnères


Nestmate recognition plays a key role in kin selection to maintain colony integrity in social insects. Previous studies have demonstrated that nestmate recognition is dependent on detection of cuticular hydrocarbons. However, the absence of intraspecific aggression between some colonies of Isoptera and social Hymenoptera questions whether kin recognition must occur in social insects. The purpose of this study was to determine if cuticular hydrocarbon similarity and high genetic relatedness could explain the lack of intraspecific aggression among and within colonies of the introduced subterranean termite Reticulitermes santonensis. We performed both GC analysis of cuticular hydrocarbons and genotyping by using 10 DNA microsatellite loci on the same 10 workers from each of 14 parisian colonies. Multivariate analyses demonstrated correspondence between cuticular hydrocarbon patterns and genetic variation. By using a redundancy analysis combining chemical and genetic data, we found that a few hydrocarbons (mainly short vs. long chains; saturated vs. unsaturated alkanes) were associated with most genetic variation. We also found a strong positive correlation between chemical and genetic distances between colonies, thus providing evidence of a genetic basis for cuticular hydrocarbon variation. However, genetic distance did not account for all chemical variation, thus suggesting that some hydrocarbon variation was environmentally derived. Investigation at the intracolony level indicated that cuticular hydrocarbons did not depend on colony social structure. Based on our findings, we speculate that the absence of intraspecific aggression in R. santonensis may result from a loss of diversity in genetically derived recognition compounds in this species that presumably descended from R. flavipes populations imported from North America.

Key words

Cuticular hydrocarbons Microsatellite DNA Subterranean termite Reticulitermes santonensis Multivariate analyses Social structure 



We are grateful to the “Section de Lutte contre les termites” (SMASH, Paris) and the pest control operators (HIE Piguy, Hygiène Office, Techmohygiène & APBM Bruant) for kindly providing some samples. We thank P. Legendre (Université de Montréal) for advice on the published material on redundancy analysis, and K. A. Copren, C. Husseneder, M. Kaib, N. D. Tsutsui, and E. L. Vargo for comments on this manuscript, and we thank A. Corsini for help in improving the English of the manuscript. This study was supported by a contract between the Centre de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the City of Paris (Direction des Parcs, Jardins et Espaces verts).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stéphanie Dronnet
    • 1
  • Caroline Lohou
    • 2
  • Jean-Philippe Christides
    • 1
  • Anne-Geneviève Bagnères
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Recherche sur la Biologie de l'Insecte, UMR CNRS 6035, Faculté des Sciences et Techniques, Parc GrandmontUniversité François RabelaisToursFrance
  2. 2.Circonscription des Études végétales, Direction des Parcs, Jardins et Espaces VertsVille de ParisFrance

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