Nonaggressive behavior: A strategy employed by an obligate nest invader to avoid conflict with its host species

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Abstract

In addition to its builders, termite nests are known to house a variety of secondary opportunistic termite species so-called inquilines, but little is known about the mechanisms governing the maintenance of these symbioses. In a single nest, host and inquiline colonies are likely to engage in conflict due to nestmate discrimination, and an intriguing question is how both species cope with each other in the long term. Evasive behaviour has been suggested as one of the mechanisms reducing the frequency of host-inquiline encounters, yet, the confinement imposed by the nests' physical boundaries suggests that cohabiting species would eventually come across each other. Under these circumstances, it is plausible that inquilines would be required to behave accordingly to secure their housing. Here, we show that once inevitably exposed to hosts individuals, inquilines exhibit nonthreatening behaviours, displaying hence a less threatening profile and preventing conflict escalation with their hosts. By exploring the behavioural dynamics of the encounter between both cohabitants, we find empirical evidence for a lack of aggressiveness by inquilines towards their hosts. Such a nonaggressive behaviour, somewhat uncommon among termites, is characterised by evasive manoeuvres that include reversing direction, bypassing and a defensive mechanism using defecation to repel the host. The behavioural adaptations we describe may play an important role in the stability of cohabitations between host and inquiline termite species: by preventing conflict escalation, inquilines may improve considerably their chances of establishing a stable cohabitation with their hosts.

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Hugo, H., Cristaldo, P. F., & DeSouza, O. (2020). Nonaggressive behavior: A strategy employed by an obligate nest invader to avoid conflict with its host species. Ecology and Evolution, 10(16), 8741–8754. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6572

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