Establishment and maintenance of the reproductive division of labor within social insect colonies relies on clear communication between nestmates. Fertile members convey their status to prevent others from becoming reproductively active. Recent findings in some basal termites indicate that cuticular hydrocarbon profiles may indicate reproductive state, but there is little evidence to show a direct link between reproductive status and hydrocarbon production—a prerequisite for an “honest” fertility signal. Here, we report that the putative signaling mechanism is influenced by juvenile hormone (JH), a primary regulator of gonadal development and activity in insects. Topical application of a JH-analog (pyriproxyfen) to reproductively inactive alates of the basal dampwood termite Zootermopsis nevadensis induced both females and males to express significantly more of a reproductive-specific hydrocarbon (6,9,17-tritriacontatriene). However, the JH-analog did not significantly enhance gonadal development or activity in treated termites beyond what is usually observed in maturing alates released from the inhibitory stimuli of their natal nest. These results suggest that a rise in JH following disinhibition drives the expression of reproductive-specific hydrocarbons, but that an individual’s hydrocarbon profile is not directly linked to its gonadal state. Rather than directly driving the expression of reproductive-specific hydrocarbons, the gonads may act indirectly through their influence on circulating JH.
- Cuticular hydrocarbons
- Fertility signaling
- Juvenile hormone
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics