Colony-dependent sex differences in protozoan communities of the lower termite Reticulitermes speratus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)
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In many animals, sex differences in hormones, behavior, and immunity lead to differences in their gut microbial communities. One of the best-known examples of mutualistic symbiosis is that between lower termites and their intestinal protozoa. Although differences in the protozoan communities of different castes have been studied in lower termites, nothing is known about the sex differences in protozoan communities in neuter castes. Here, we show that termite workers have different protozoan communities according to sex depending on the colony. We investigated the communities of symbiotic protozoa living in lower termites, Reticulitermes speratus, and how they are affected by sex and caste. Workers had the largest numbers of protozoa, followed by soldiers, whereas reproductives (primary kings and secondary queens) had no protozoa. Workers showed colony-dependent sex differences in the total abundance of protozoa, whereas soldiers showed no such sex differences. There were significant sex effect and/or interaction effect between colony and sex in abundances of five species of protozoa in workers. Workers also showed significant sex differences and/or colony-dependent sex differences in proportion of six species of protozoa. These may result in sex differences in the host–symbiont interaction due to physiological or behavioral sex differences in workers that have not been recognized previously. This study has an important implication: although workers are not engaged in reproduction, their potential sex difference may affect various aspects of social interactions.
KeywordsMutualistic symbiosis Sex differences Social insects Protozoa Isoptera
We thank S. Dobata and K. Kobayashi for helpful comments and T. Yashiro for termite photographs. This work was supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (https://www.jsps.go.jp/english/index.html, No. 25221206 to KM).
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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