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Journal Article (Refereed)
January 2011

Is parasite pressure a driver of chemical cue diversity in ants?

Martin, S 2011, 'Is parasite pressure a driver of chemical cue diversity in ants?', Proceedings of the Royal Society B .



Parasites and pathogens are possibly key evolutionary forces driving recognition systems. However, empirical evidence remains sparse. The ubiquitous pioneering ant Formica fusca is exploited by numerous socially parasitic ant species. We compared the chemical cue diversity, egg and nest mate recognition abilities in two Finnish and two UK populations where parasite pressure is high or absent respectively. Finnish populations had excellent egg and nest mate discrimination abilities, which were lost in UK populations. The loss of discrimination behaviour correlates with a loss in key recognition compounds (C25-dimethylalkanes). This was not due to genetic drift or different ecotypes since neutral gene diversity was the same in both countries. Furthermore, it is known that the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of non-host ant species remain stable between Finland and the UK. The most parsimonious explanation for the striking difference in the cue diversity (number of C25-dimethylalkanes isomers) between the UK and Finland populations is the large differences in parasite pressure experienced by F. fusca in the two countries. These results have strong parallels with bird (cuckoo) studies and support the hypothesis that parasites are driving recognition cue diversity.


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Publication Details

Journal Name
Proceedings of the Royal Society B