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Hormonal pleiotropy helps maintain queen signal honesty in a highly eusocial wasp

Oliveira, Ricardo Caliari, Vollet-Neto, Ayrton, Oi, Clintia Akemi, Zweden, Jelle S. van, Nascimento, Fabio, Brent, Colin Sullivan, Wenseleers, Tom
Scientific Reports 2017 v.7 no.1654
Vespula vulgaris, animal fertility, insect colonies, insect communication, methoprene, ovarian development, pleiotropy, queen insects, queen pheromones, wasps, worker insects
In insect societies, both queens and workers produce chemicals that reliably signal caste membership and reproductive status. The mechanisms that help to maintain the honesty of such queen and fertility signals, however, remain poorly studied. Here we test if queen signal honesty could be based on the shared endocrine control of queen fertility and the production of specific signals. In support of this “hormonal pleiotropy” hypothesis, we find that in the common wasp, application of methoprene (a juveline hormone analogue) caused workers to acquire a queen-like cuticular hydrocarbon profile, resulting in the overproduction of known queen pheromones as well as of some compounds typically linked to worker fertility. By contrast, administration of precocene-I (a JH inhibitor) had a tendency to have the opposite effect. Furthermore, a clear gonadotropic effect of JH in queens was suggested by the fact that circulating levels of JH were ca. 2 orders of magnitude higher in queens than those in workers and virgin, non-egg-laying queens, even if methoprene or precocene treatment did not affect the ovary development of workers. Overall, these results suggest that queen signal honesty in this system is maintained by queen fertility and queen signal production being under shared endocrine control.