Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 817–828 | Cite as

Does kin structure explain the occurrence of workers in a lower termite?

  • Judith Korb
  • Katharina Schneider
Original Paper


Kinship plays a fundamental role in the origin of social life. It is also predicted to affect numerous details within animal societies, yet recent studies revealed equivocal results. We tested the influence of relatedness for the occurrence of workers in the termite Cryptotermes secundus. Here individuals are developmentally flexible to remain workers or to become dispersing sexuals that found new colonies. Furthermore, colony relatedness naturally increases with inbreeding and decreases when neighboring colonies fuse. Similar to recent studies on social Hymenoptera, our experimental change in relatedness gave equivocal results. Reducing relatedness within colonies did not have an effect, but individuals in inbred colonies were less likely to disperse and more likely to remain workers as predicted by kinship arguments. Several explanations for the interpretation of these equivocal results are provided.


Cooperation Kinship Relatedness Social evolution Termite 



We wish to thank S. Schmidinger, S. Kirschner for help with data collection, K. Boomsma and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript, and M. Lenz for substantial support in Australia. The project was supported by the German Science Foundation (KO 1895/2-1). Environment Australia gave permission to export the termites (export permit no. PWS P20011508). The experiments performed comply with the current laws in Australia and Germany where the experiments were performed.


  1. Abe T (1987) Evolution of life types in termites. In: Kawano S, Connell JH, Hidaka T (eds) Evolution and coadaptation in biotic communities. University of Tokyo Press, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkinson L, Adams ES (1997) The origins and relatedness of multiple reproductives in colonies of the termite Nasutitermes corniger. Proc R Soc Lond B 264:1131–1136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beekman M, Ratnieks FLW (2003) Power over reproduction in social Hymenoptera. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 358:1741–1754PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benjamini Y, Hochberg Y (1995) Controlling the false discovery rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. J R Stat Soc B 57:289–300Google Scholar
  5. Boomsma JJ, Nielsen J, Sundström L et al (2003) Informational constraints on optimal sex allocation in ants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:8799–8804PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bourke AFG, Franks NR (1995) Social evolution in ants. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown WD, Keller L (2000) Colony sex ratios vary with queen number but not relatedness asymmetry in the ant Formica exsecta. Proc R Soc Lond B 267:1751–1757CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bulmer MS, Eldridge SA, Traniello JFA (2001) Variation in colony structure in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:236–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colegrave N, Ruxton GD (2003) Confidence intervals are a more useful complement to nonsignificant tests than are power calculations. Behav Ecol 14:446–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crozier RH, Pamilo P (1996) Evolution of social insect colonies: sex allocation and kin selection. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  11. DeHeer CJ, Vargo EL (2004) Colony genetic organization and colony fusion in the termite Reticulitermes flavipes as revealed by foraging patterns over time and space. Mol Ecol 13:431–441PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Foster KR, Wenseleers T, Ratnieks FLW (2006) Kin selection is the key to altruism. Trends Ecol Evol 21:57–60PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frank SA (1998) Foundations of social evolution. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  14. Fuchs A, Heinze J, Reber-Funk C, Korb J (2003) Isolation and characterization of six microsatellite loci in the drywood termite Cryptotermes secundus (Kalotermitidae). Mol Ecol Notes 3:355–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Garcia LV (2004) Escaping the Bonferroni iron claw in ecological studies. Oikos 105:657–663CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goodisman MAD, Crozier RH (2002) Population and colony genetic structure of the primitive termite Mastotermes darwiniensis. Evolution 56:70–83PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Griffin AS, West SA (2003) Kin discrimination and the benefit of helping in cooperatively breeding vertebrates. Science 302:634–636PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gross MR (1996) Alternative reproductive strategies and tactics: diversity within sexes. Trends Ecol Evol 11:92–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hammond RL, Bruford MW, Bourke AFG (2003) Male parentage does not vary with colony kin structure in a multiple-queen ant. J Evol Biol 16:446–455PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hoenig JM, Heisey DM (2001) The abuse of power: the pervasive fallacy of power calculations for data analysis. Am Stat 55:19–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Husseneder C, Brandl R, Epplen J, Kaib M (1999) Within colony relatedness in a termite species: genetic roads to eusociality? Behaviour 136:1045–1063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Keller L (1997) Indiscriminate altruism: unduly nice parents and siblings. Trends Ecol Evol 12:99–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Korb J (2005) Regulation of sexual development in termites: mutilation, pheromonal manipulation or honest signal. Naturwissenschaften 92:45–49PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Korb J (2006) Limited food induces nepotism in drywood termites. Biol Lett 2:364–366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Korb J (2007) Termites: an alternative road to eusociality and the importance of group benefits in social insects. In: Gadau J, Fewell J (eds) Organization of insect societies. Harvard University Press, Harvard (in press)Google Scholar
  26. Korb J, Heinze J (2004) Multilevel selection and social evolution of insect societies. Naturwissenschaften 91:291–304PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Korb J, Katrantzis S (2004) Influence of environmental conditions on the expression of the worker phenotype in a lower termite: implications for the evolution of workers in termites. Evol Dev 6:342–352PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Korb J, Lenz M (2004) Reproductive decision-making in the termite Cryptotermes secundus (Kalotermitidae) under variable food conditions. Behav Ecol 15:390–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Korb J, Schmidinger S (2004) Help or disperse? Cooperation in termites influenced by food conditions. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 56:89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lenz M (1994) Food resources, colony growth and caste development in wood-feeding termites. In: Hunt J, Nalepa CA (eds) Nourishment and evolution in insect societies. Westview, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  31. Myles TG (1988) Resource inheritance in social evolution from termites to man. In: Slobodchikoff CN (ed) The ecology of social behavior. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Norusis M (1993) SPSS for Window. Base systems. SPSS Inc., ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  33. Nutting WL (1969) Flight and colony foundation. In: Krishna K, Weesner F (eds) Biology of termites I. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Page RE, Robinson GE, Fondrk MK (1989) Genetic specialists, kin recognition and nepotism in honey-bee colonies. Nature 338:576–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Queller DC (1993) Genetic relatedness in viscous populations. Evol Ecol 8:70–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ratnieks FLW, Reeve HK (1992) Conflict in single-queen Hymenopteran societies: the structure of conflict and processes that reduce conflict in advanced eusocial species. J Theor Biol 158:33–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Reeve HK (1998) Game theory, reproductive skew, and nepotism. In: Dugatkin RH (ed) Theory and animal behaviour. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  38. Roisin Y (2000) Diversity and evolution of caste patterns. In: Abe T, Bignell D, Higashi M (eds) Termites: evolution, sociality, symbioses, ecology. Kluwer Academic Publishers, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  39. Roux E (2004) Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste: a case study in a drywood termite. Dissertation, University of RegensburgGoogle Scholar
  40. Shellman-Reeve JS (1997) The spectrum of eusociality in termites. In: Choe J, Crespi B (eds) The evolution of social behaviour in insects and arachnids. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  41. Shellman-Reeve JS (2001) Genetic relatedness and partner preference in a monogamous, wood-dwelling termite. Anim Behav 61:869–876CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Thompson G, Hebert P (1998) Population genetic structure of the neotropical termite Nasutitermes nigriceps (Isoptera: Termitidae). Heredity 8:48–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thorne BL (1997) Evolution of eusociality in termites. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 28:27–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Thorne BL, Traniello J (2003) Comparative social biology of basal taxa of ants and termites. Annu Rev Entomol 48:283–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Thorne BL, Breisch NL, Muscedere ML (2003) Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste in termites: influence of intraspecific competition and accelerated inheritance. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:12808–12813PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vargo EL (2003) Hierarchical analysis of colony and population genetic structure of the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, using two classes of molecular markers. Evolution 57:2805–2818PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. West SA, Pen I, Griffin AS (2002) Cooperation and competition between relatives. Science 296:72–75PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology IUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

Personalised recommendations