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Trail-Following Pheromones in Basal Termites, with Special Reference to Mastotermes darwiniensis

Sillam-Dussès, David, Sémon, Etienne, Lacey, Michael J., Robert, Alain, Lenz, Michael, Bordereau, Christian
Journal of chemical ecology 2007 v.33 no.10 pp. 1960-1977
Mastotermes darwiniensis, Termopsidae, worker insects, sex pheromones, chemical composition, alcohols, exocrine glands, foraging, insect communication, phylogeny
In the framework of an evolutionary study, trail pheromones have been studied in the most basal extant termite, Mastotermes darwiniensis (Mastotermitidae), and two other basal termites, the Termopsidae Porotermes adamsoni (Porotermitinae) and Stolotermes victoriensis (Stolotermitinae). Although workers of M. darwiniensis do not walk in single file while exploring a new environment under experimental conditions and are unable to follow artificial trails in 'open field' experiments, they do secrete a trail-following pheromone from their sternal glands. This unique behavior might reflect a primitive function of communication of the sternal gland. The major component of the pheromone appears to be the same in the three basal species: the norsesquiterpene alcohol (E)-2,6,10-trimethyl-5,9-undecadien-1-ol. This represents a new chemical category of trail-following pheromones for termites. The quantity of pheromone was estimated as 20 pg/individual in M. darwiniensis, 700 pg/individual in P. adamsoni, and 4 pg/individual in S. victoriensis. The activity threshold was 1 ng/cm in M. darwiniensis and 10 pg/cm in P. adamsoni. In M. darwiniensis, the trail pheromone was secreted by sternal gland 4 and to a lesser degree by sternal gland 3, sternal gland 5 being almost inactive. This study highlighted phylogenetic relationships between the Mastotermitidae and two subfamilies of the Termopsidae, the Porotermitinae and the Stolotermitinae. Furthermore, it indicated a heterogeneity within the Termopsidae, with Porotermitinae and Stolotermitinae on one hand, and Termopsinae on the other. Finally, Mastotermitidae and Termopsidae, with C14 trail pheromones, are clearly separated from the Kalotermitidae, Rhinotermitidae, and Termitidae that secrete C12 or C20 trail pheromones.