Efficient cooperation in eusocial insect colonies requires effective communication, and there is abundant evidence of non-volatile chemicals playing a role in regulating reproduction within colonies. In contrast, there have been fewer studies investigating the role of volatile chemicals. This study investigated the potential role of volatile chemicals in regulating queen reproduction either by directly inhibiting queen reproduction or by honestly signalling queen fecundity to workers. We tested this using multiple queen colonies of the ant (Leptothorax acervorum) from a functionally monogynous population where one queen monopolizes all reproduction. Nine colonies, each with an established laying queen, were split to produce two colony fragments—one containing the reproducing queen (group 1) and one containing only previously non-reproducing queens (group 2). Each group was separated by a fine wire mesh preventing physical contact, but allowing volatile chemical contact. In each group 2 fragment, we found that a single formerly non-reproductive queen commenced reproduction and that the rate of egg laying and maximum number of eggs recorded did not significantly differ between groups 1 and 2, results that do not support volatile chemicals as playing a role in regulating queen reproduction. Instead, our findings suggest that physical contact is necessary to maintain functional monogyny.
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DJC would like to thank Mike Orchard for help throughout this study; special thanks to D.W. and J. Coston for providing funding for DJC’s MSc. All authors would like to thank three referees for their helpful comments. RJG and RLH would like to thank NERC, Royal Society, and the University of Hull for funding.
Duncan J. Coston and Richard J. Gill are joint first authors.
Communicated by Sven Thatje
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Coston, D.J., Gill, R.J. & Hammond, R.L. No evidence of volatile chemicals regulating reproduction in a multiple queen ant. Naturwissenschaften 98, 625–629 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-011-0801-4
- Functional monogyny
- Leptothorax acervorum
- Reproductive skew