Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 11, pp 1263–1275 | Cite as

Cooperation, Conflict, and the Evolution of Queen Pheromones

  • Sarah D. KocherEmail author
  • Christina M. Grozinger
Review Article


While chemical communication regulates individual behavior in a wide variety of species, these communication systems are most elaborated in insect societies. In these complex systems, pheromones produced by the reproductive individuals (queens) are critical in establishing and maintaining dominant reproductive status over hundreds to thousands of workers. The proximate and ultimate mechanisms by which these intricate pheromone communication systems evolved are largely unknown, though there has been much debate over whether queen pheromones function as a control mechanism or as an honest signal facilitating cooperation. Here, we summarize results from recent studies in honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, ants and termites. We further discuss evolutionary mechanisms by which queen pheromone communication systems may have evolved. Overall, these studies suggest that queen-worker pheromone communication is a multi-component, labile dialog between the castes, rather than a simple, fixed signal-response system. We also discuss future approaches that can shed light on the proximate and ultimate mechanisms that underlie these complex systems by focusing on the development of increasingly sophisticated genomic tools and their potential applications to examine the molecular mechanisms that regulate pheromone production and perception.

Key Words

Social insects Pheromones Honey bees Chemical communication Behavior Genomics Evolution 



We thank Andrew Barron, Laurent Keller, Amy Toth, Etya Ansalem, Jim Hunt, Doug Yu, members of the Grozinger lab, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful discussions and constructive feedback that greatly improved the manuscript. The development of this review was supported by an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to SDK and NSF CAREER grant to CMG.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Entomology, Center for Pollinator Research, Center for Chemical Ecology, Huck Institutes of the Life SciencesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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