Pheromones and Chemical Ecology of Dispersal and Foraging in Termites

  • Christian BordereauEmail author
  • Jacques M. Pasteels


Pheromones play a crucial role in the ecology of dispersal and foraging in termites. Sex-pairing pheromones possess a double role of long-range attraction to unite sexual partners and a short-range or contact attraction to maintain the pair during the tandem behaviour. Sex-pairing pheromones most often comprise a single compound capable of eliciting both behavioural effects. They appear very conservative in their evolution, and their role in the reproductive isolation of sympatric species greatly varies according to species. Species-specific sex-pairing pheromones consist of different major compounds or of a common major compound with species-specific minor components. Foraging is a collective behaviour mainly regulated by trail-following pheromones secreted from only one glandular source, the sternal gland. Trail-following pheromones may be also used by “one-piece” termites to colonise additional food sources. Although trail-following pheromones of termites have a double role of orientation and recruitment, they appear most often composed of only one compound. An alternative hypothesis is given to the postulated existence of a volatile ephemeral compound of recruitment and a long-lasting compound of orientation. Trail-following pheromones appear highly conserved in their chemical evolution (only 8 different pheromones for 60 species), even if a clear separation is observed between basal termites and more derived termites. The major ecological event of the external foraging was not related to a chemical evolutionary step of the trail-following pheromones. Pheromonal parsimony (the utilisation of a same molecule for multiple functions) is common in termites in the behavioural context of dispersal and foraging. The same molecule is used in many species as a sex-pairing pheromone and a trail-following pheromone, depending upon the pheromone concentration and the caste involved.


Sternal Gland Female Alate Male Alate Tergal Gland Zootermopsis Angusticollis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Unpublished results cited in this review are given with the permission of our collaborators, the biologists Alain Robert, David Sillam-Dussès (France), Eliana M. Cancello (Brazil), Anani Kotoklo (Togo), and the chemists Etienne Sémon (France), Michael J. Lacey (Australia), Jean-Claude Braekman and Jean Ghostin (Belgium), Irena Valterová (Czech Republic), all of whom we sincerely thank. We also thank M. J. Lacey, C.A. Nalepa, E. Cancello, R. Rosengaus, D. Sillam-Dussès for reviewing and editing the manuscript, A. Robert for preparing the plate of postflight behaviour, and E. Sémon for comments and preparing the plate of mass spectra and chemical structures.


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© Springer Netherlands 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Développement et Communication Chimique chez les InsectesUniversité de BourgogneDijonFrance
  2. 2.Evolutionary Biology and EcologyUniversité Libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium

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