Species-Specific Cuticular Hydrocarbon Stability within European Myrmica Ants

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Abstract

Recognition is a fundamental process on which all subsequent behaviors are based at every organizational level, from the gene up to the super-organism. At the whole organism level, visual recognition is the best understood. However, chemical communication is far more widespread than visual communication, but despite its importance is much less understood. Ants provide an excellent model system for chemical ecology studies as it is well established that compounds known as cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) are used as recognition cues in ants. Therefore, stable species-specific odors should exist, irrespective of geographic locality. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the CHC profiles of workers of twelve species of Myrmica ants from four countries across Europe, from Iberia to the Balkans and from the Mediterranean to Fennoscandia. CHCs remained qualitatively stable within each species, right down to the isomer level. Despite the morphological similarity that occurs within the genus Myrmica, their CHCs were highly diverse but remarkably species-specific and stable across wide geographical areas. This indicates a genetic mechanism under strong selection that produces these species-specific chemical profiles, despite each species encountering different environmental conditions across its range.

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Guillem, R. M., Drijfhout, F. P., & Martin, S. J. (2016). Species-Specific Cuticular Hydrocarbon Stability within European Myrmica Ants. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 42(10), 1052–1062. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-016-0784-x

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