Chemical communication is central for the formation and maintenance of insect societies. Generally, social insects only allow nest-mates into their colony, which are recognized by their cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs). Social parasites, which exploit insect societies, are selected to circumvent host recognition. Here, we studied whether chemical strategies to reduce recognition evolved convergently in slavemaking ants, and whether they extend to workers, queens and males alike. We studied CHCs of three social parasites and their related hosts to investigate whether the parasitic lifestyle selects for specific chemical traits that reduce host recognition. Slavemaker profiles were characterized by shorter-chained hydrocarbons and a shift from methyl-branched alkanes to n-alkanes, presumably to reduce recognition cue quantity. These shifts were consistent across independent origins of slavery and were found in isolated ants and those emerging in their mother colony. Lifestyle influenced profiles of workers most profoundly, with little effect on virgin queen profiles. We detected an across-species caste signal, with workers, for which nest-mate recognition is particularly important, carrying more and longer-chained hydrocarbons and males exhibiting a larger fraction of n-alkanes. This comprehensive study of CHCs across castes and species reveals how lifestyle-specific selection can result in convergent evolution of chemical phenotypes.
One contribution to a special feature ‘Ant interactions with their biotic environments’.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3666526.
- Received October 14, 2016.
- Accepted November 8, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.