The Effect of Social Parasitism by Polyergus breviceps on the Nestmate Recognition System of Its Host, Formica altipetens
OPEN PloS one | 4 Feb 2016
CW Torres and ND Tsutsui
Highly social ants, bees and wasps employ sophisticated recognition systems to identify colony members and deny foreign individuals access to their nest. For ants, cuticular hydrocarbons serve as the labels used to ascertain nest membership. Social parasites, however, are capable of breaking the recognition code so that they can thrive unopposed within the colonies of their hosts. Here we examine the influence of the socially parasitic slave-making ant, Polyergus breviceps on the nestmate recognition system of its slaves, Formica altipetens. We compared the chemical, genetic, and behavioral characteristics of colonies of enslaved and free-living F. altipetens. We found that enslaved Formica colonies were more genetically and chemically diverse than their free-living counterparts. These differences are likely caused by the hallmark of slave-making ant ecology: seasonal raids in which pupa are stolen from several adjacent host colonies. The different social environments of enslaved and free-living Formica appear to affect their recognition behaviors: enslaved Formica workers were less aggressive towards non-nestmates than were free-living Formica. Our findings indicate that parasitism by P. breviceps dramatically alters both the chemical and genetic context in which their kidnapped hosts develop, leading to changes in how they recognize nestmates.
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