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Abstract

Termite societies display a wide array of polymorphism patterns, rivalled only by the most complex ant societies. Caste differentiation in termites occurs when immatures of either sex deviate from the straight hemimetabolous pathway leading from the egg to the winged imago. Two kinds of irreversible deviations are found in primitive termites: one leads to the sterile soldier caste, the other to neotenic reproductives. Social tasks are primitively done by immatures which may postpone their maturation but retain a full range of developmental options. A major event in the evolution of termite caste patterns is the polyphyletic onset of a worker caste which is irreversibly excluded from the imaginal pathway. Termites with workers went through a remarkable behavioural and ecological diversification. After defining terms, I review here the diversity of caste patterns in termites in an evolutionary perspective. I provide examples of relationships between caste patterns and behavioural ecology, and examine the decision and regulatory mechanisms affecting caste determination. Trends in the evolution of termite caste patterns are then outlined, of which the most salient and enigmatic ones are the repeated occurrence of sexual dimorphism among workers and the frequent specialization of one sex in the formation of sterile castes.

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Roisin, Y. (2000). Diversity and Evolution of Caste Patterns. In: Abe, T., Bignell, D.E., Higashi, M. (eds) Termites: Evolution, Sociality, Symbioses, Ecology. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-3223-9_5

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