Regulation of reproduction in polygynous ants (Dolichoderinae): Queen fertility signal and adult polyploidy


Regulation of reproduction is one central feature of social life. In particular, only a few individuals are in charge of producing offspring in eusocial species. This division of the reproductive labour is mainly mediated by pheromones emitted by the queens in social insects. These queen pheromones may signal the presence of a fertile queen so that workers react accordingly by taking care of her and not reproducing. Here I investigated two aspects of the reproduction of two polygynous ant species. The first one, Linepithema humile, is a unicolonial, highly polygynous and invasive species. It has been the focus of numerous studies about queen pheromones; in particular, it has been reported that queen cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC) profile is related to queen fertility. The other one, Tapinoma erraticum, is a multi-colonial, weakly polygynous and native species. Workers can lay haploid eggs in the absence of the queens which is impossible for Linepithema workers. The major part of my thesis dealt with the queen fertility signalling issue. In the first two chapters I demonstrate the link between queen fertility and queen pheromone output. I first study a queen releaser pheromone, the queen retrieval behaviour. This behaviour is performed by the workers who lay a chemical trail toward a queen located outside the nest. I successfully show this behaviour to be related to queen fertility, and not mating status, in L. humile and T. erraticum since only fertile queens (mated or not) induce such recruitment. I then highlight the role of queen fertility in the prevention of worker reproduction in T. erraticum. Again, mated fertile queens and unmated fertile queens are both able to induce such primer effect. In a third chapter I report that CHC profiles may discriminate female castes (workers, queens, virgin queens, and virgin egg-laying queens) in T. erraticum. Finally, chapter 4 summarizes my attempts to prove that CHC may be involved in queen retrieval or queen attraction. None of the various bioassays tested allows me to demonstrate the putative role of CHC as queen pheromone. In a second part, I was interested in the consequences of sex determination in T. erraticum. Chapter 5 presents the flow cytometry methodology (FC) which allowed me to score the number of sperm cells from spermathecae of several ant species, and to demonstrate that polygynous species (such as L. humile and T. erraticum) store less sperm than monogynous ones. FCM also allows determining the ploidy of sperm and adult somatic cells and chapter 6 which presents a large survey on the ploidy level within the species T. erraticum. This species displays diploid males that may produce diploid sperm which in turn can father a viable triploid female progeny. I report differences in the frequency of triploidy among female castes, the proportion of triploid workers being more important than triploid virgin queens whereas I never observed triploid mated fertile queens. Such results greatly suggest a putative regulatory mechanism involved in the rearing of triploid females. In the last chapter I investigated two populations that differ in the occurrence of triploid workers. I report these populations to vary in the number of queens and workers per nest.


Linepithema humile, Tapinoma erraticum, flow cytometry, cuticular hydrocarbons


Name Role Start End
Cournault, Laurent member 2009-01-01
De Biseau D'hauteville, Jean-Christophe promotor 2009-01-01


Name Role Start End
Evolution Biologique et Ecologie member 2009-01-01

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

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