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Complex alarm strategy in the most basal termite species

Olivier Delattre, David Sillam-Dussès, Vojtěch Jandák, Marek Brothánek, Karel Rücker, Thomas Bourguignon, Blahoslava Vytisková, Josef Cvačka, Ondřej Jiříček, Jan Šobotník
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2015 v.69 no.12 pp. 1945-1955
Mastotermes darwiniensis, Termitidae, alarm pheromones, evolution, secretion
Studying basal taxa often allows shedding a light on the evolution of advanced representatives. The most basal termite species, Mastotermes darwiniensis, possesses unique morphological and behavioural traits, of which many remain scarcely studied. For these reasons, we conducted a comprehensive study of the alarm communication in this species and compared its components to behavioural modes described in other termites. In M. darwiniensis, the alarm is communicated by substrate-borne vibrations resulting from vertical vibratory movements. Another similar behaviour consists in longitudinal movements, by which the alarm is delivered to other termites in contact with alerted individual. Both these two behavioural modes could be used in synergy to create complex movements. M. darwiniensis also uses chemical alarm signals produced by labial gland secretion, in contrast to Neoisoptera in which this function is fulfilled exclusively by the frontal gland secretion. Moreover, we demonstrated in M. darwiniensis the presence of a positive feedback mechanism thought to occur exclusively in the crown group Termitidae. This positive feedback consists in both oscillatory movements of alerted individuals in response to alarm signals and release of alarm pheromone by excited soldiers. Our results confirm that M. darwiniensis is a remarkable example of mosaic evolution, as it combines many primitive and advanced features, and its alarm communication clearly belongs to the latter category.