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Queen primer pheromone affects conspecific fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) aggression

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Monogyne fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, colony workers are territorial and are aggressive toward members of other fire ant colonies. In contrast, polygyne colony workers are not aggressive toward non-nestmates, presumably due to broader exposure to heritable and environmentally derived nestmate recognition cues (broad template). Workers from both monogyne and polygyne fire ant colonies execute newly mated queens after mating flights. We discovered that monogyne and polygyne queens have a remarkable effect on conspecific recognition. After removal of their colony queen, monogyne worker aggression toward non-nestmate conspecifics quickly drops to merely investigative levels; however, heterospecific recognition/aggression remains high. Queenless monogyne or polygyne worker groups were also not aggressive toward newly mated queens. Queenless worker groups of both forms that adopted a monogyne-derived newly mated queen became aggressive toward non-nestmate workers and newly mated queens. We propose that the powerful effect of fire ant queens on conspecific nestmate recognition is caused by a queen-produced recognition primer pheromone that increases the sensitivity of workers to subtle quantitative differences in nestmate recognition cues. This primer pheromone prevents the adoption of newly mated queens (regulation of reproductive competition) in S. invicta and when absent allows queenless workers to adopt a new queen readily. This extraordinary discovery has broad implications regarding monogyne and polygyne colony and population dynamics.

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Vander Meer, R.K., Alonso, L.E. Queen primer pheromone affects conspecific fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) aggression. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51, 122–130 (2002).

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