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Short-term phenotypic plasticity in long-chain cuticular hydrocarbons

Thomas, Melissa L., Simmons, Leigh W.
Proceedings 2011 v.278 no.1721 pp. 3123-3128
Teleogryllus oceanicus, arthropods, hydrocarbons, males, ornamental birds, phenotypic plasticity, social dominance, solid phase extraction
Cuticular hydrocarbons provide arthropods with the chemical equivalent of the visually extravagant plumage of birds. Their long chain length, together with the number and variety of positions in which methyl branches and double bonds occur, provide cuticular hydrocarbons with an extraordinary level of information content. Here, we demonstrate phenotypic plasticity in an individual's cuticular hydrocarbon profile. Using solid-phase microextraction, a chemical technique that enables multiple sampling of the same individual, we monitor short-term changes in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of individual crickets, Teleogryllus oceanicus, in response to a social challenge. We experimentally manipulate the dominance status of males and find that dominant males, on losing fights with other dominant males, change their hydrocarbon profile to more closely resemble that of a subordinate. This result demonstrates that cuticular hydrocarbons can be far more responsive to changes in social dominance than previously realized.