Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects

A special issue of Insects (ISSN 2075-4450). This special issue belongs to the section "Insect Behavior and Pathology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2021) | Viewed by 34784

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Laboratoire de Zoologie, Institut des Biosciences, Université de Mons, Place du Parc 20, 7000 Mons, Belgique
Interests: bee–plant interactions; chemical and nutritional ecology; floral specialization; conservation biology

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Co-Guest Editor
Unité Abeilles et Environnement, INRAE, Domaine Saint Paul, route de l’Aérodrome 228, Site Agroparc-CS 40509, CEDEX 9, 84914 Avignon, France
Interests: honey bee; varroa destructor; host-parasite interactions; insect pathology; insect behavior; chemical ecology; molecular biology

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Co-Guest Editor
Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), UMR CNRS 5175, route de Mende 1919, CEDEX 5, 34293 Montpellier, France
Interests: social insect communication; chemical ecology; subterranean termites; biological invasions

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The appearance of sociality is considered as one of the major transitions in evolution. Sociality has evolved multiple times independently in the animal kingdom, with various levels of specialization and complexity. The highest level of sociality a species can attain has been achieved in insects, with the colonies of eusocial ants, bees, wasps (Hymenoptera), and termites (Isoptera). Eusocial insect colonies display a high degree of altruism through the existence of castes of reproductive and non-reproductive individuals, regurgitation of food between colony members or aggressive, even suicidal, behavior for the colony benefit. Within insect colonies, members behave like the cells of a metazoan organism so that social insect colonies can be regarded as super-organisms. However, reproductive conflicts are frequent within insect societies, notably with fratricidal behavior, which emphasizes the balance between conflict and cooperation in eusocial colonies. All systems of social behavior are acutely sensitive and responsive to genetic and ecological factors, such as food availability, predation, or climate. This thriving field of biology is at the crossroads of evolution, ecology, and ethology, and stimulates scientific curiosity.

This Special Issue will broadly address studies on the Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects across all relevant disciplines. In this context, submissions in the form of reviews/mini-reviews, opinions, and original basic or applied research are welcome.

Dr. Maryse Vanderplanck
Dr. Anne-Geneviève Bagneres
Dr. Fanny Mondet
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Insects is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Eusociality
  • super-organism
  • social conflicts
  • social behavior
  • social nutrition
  • social immunity
  • genetic factors
  • ecology
  • chemical communication

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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13 pages, 17942 KiB  
Communication
Chemically Insignificant Social Parasites Exhibit More Anti-Dehydration Behaviors than Their Hosts
by Maria Cristina Lorenzi
Insects 2021, 12(11), 1006; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12111006 - 8 Nov 2021
Viewed by 1881
Abstract
Social parasites have evolved adaptations to overcome host resistance as they infiltrate host colonies and establish there. Among the chemical adaptations, a few species are chemically “insignificant”; they are poor in recognition cues (cuticular hydrocarbons) and evade host detection. As cuticular hydrocarbons also [...] Read more.
Social parasites have evolved adaptations to overcome host resistance as they infiltrate host colonies and establish there. Among the chemical adaptations, a few species are chemically “insignificant”; they are poor in recognition cues (cuticular hydrocarbons) and evade host detection. As cuticular hydrocarbons also serve a waterproofing function, chemical insignificance is beneficial as it protects parasites from being detected but is potentially harmful because it exposes parasites to desiccation stress. Here I tested whether the social parasites Polistes atrimandibularis employ behavioral water-saving strategies when they live at Polistes biglumis colonies. Observations in the field showed that parasites were less active than their cohabiting host foundresses, spent more time at the nest, and rested in the shadowy, back face of the nest, rather than at the front face, which contradicted expectations for the use of space for dominant females—typically, dominants rest at the nest front-face. These data suggest that behavioral adaptations might promote resistance to desiccation stress in chemical insignificant social parasites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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13 pages, 914 KiB  
Article
Optimizing Laboratory Rearing of a Key Pollinator, Bombus impatiens
by Erin Treanore, Katherine Barie, Nathan Derstine, Kaitlin Gadebusch, Margarita Orlova, Monique Porter, Frederick Purnell and Etya Amsalem
Insects 2021, 12(8), 673; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12080673 - 26 Jul 2021
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 4526
Abstract
Bumble bees are key pollinators for wild and managed plants and serve as a model system in various research fields, largely due to their commercial availability. Despite their extensive use, laboratory rearing of bumble bees is often challenging, particularly during the solitary phase [...] Read more.
Bumble bees are key pollinators for wild and managed plants and serve as a model system in various research fields, largely due to their commercial availability. Despite their extensive use, laboratory rearing of bumble bees is often challenging, particularly during the solitary phase queens undergo before founding a colony. Using a literature survey, we demonstrate that most studies rely on commercially available species that are provided during the colony’s social phase, limiting study on early phases of the life cycle and the ability to control for colony age and relatedness. Laboratory rearing is challenging since the queen solitary phase is less understood compared to the social phase. To overcome this barrier, we examined several aspects related to the queen solitary phase: the effect of age on likelihood of mating, how the timing of CO2 narcosis post-mating (a technique to bypass diapause) affects egg-laying, and whether different social cues affect the success of colony initiation. Our data show an optimum age for mating in both sexuals and decreased egg-laying latency in the presence of workers and pupae. The timing of CO2 narcosis did not significantly affect egg laying in queens. These findings can be incorporated to improve bumble bee rearing for research purposes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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18 pages, 3656 KiB  
Article
Comparative Antennal Morphometry and Sensilla Organization in the Reproductive and Non-Reproductive Castes of the Formosan Subterranean Termite
by Paula Castillo, Nathan Le and Qian Sun
Insects 2021, 12(7), 576; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12070576 - 24 Jun 2021
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 2630
Abstract
Antennae are the primary sensory organs in insects, where a variety of sensilla are distributed for the perception of the chemical environment. In eusocial insects, colony function is maintained by a division of labor between reproductive and non-reproductive castes, and chemosensation is essential [...] Read more.
Antennae are the primary sensory organs in insects, where a variety of sensilla are distributed for the perception of the chemical environment. In eusocial insects, colony function is maintained by a division of labor between reproductive and non-reproductive castes, and chemosensation is essential for regulating their specialized social activities. Several social species in Hymenoptera display caste-specific characteristics in antennal morphology and diversity of sensilla, reflecting their differential tasks. In termites, however, little is known about how the division of labor is associated with chemosensory morphology among castes. Using light and scanning electron microscopy, we performed antennal morphometry and characterized the organization of sensilla in reproductive (female and male alates) and non-reproductive (worker and soldier) castes in the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki. Here, we show that the antennal sensilla in alates are twice as abundant as in workers and soldiers, along with the greater number of antennal segments and antennal length in alates. However, all castes exhibit the same types of antennal sensilla, including basiconicum, campaniformium, capitulum, chaeticum I, chaeticum II, chaeticum III, marginal, trichodeum I, and trichodeum I. The quantitative composition of sensilla diverges between reproductive and non-reproductive castes, but not between female and male alates or between worker and soldier castes. The sensilla display spatial-specific distribution, with basiconicum exclusively and capitulum predominantly found on the ventral side of antennae. In addition, the abundance of chemosensilla increases toward the distal end of antennae in each caste. This research provides morphological signatures of chemosensation and their implications for the division of labor, and suggests future neurophysiological and molecular studies to address the mechanisms of chemical communication in termites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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13 pages, 1326 KiB  
Article
Seasonal Activity, Spatial Distribution, and Physiological Limits of Subterranean Termites (Reticulitermes Species) in an East Texas Forest
by Mark Janowiecki and Edward L. Vargo
Insects 2021, 12(2), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12020086 - 20 Jan 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2404
Abstract
One of the major goals of ecology is to understand how co-habiting species partition limited resources. In the eastern U.S., at least three species of Reticulitermes subterranean termites often occur in sympatry; however, little is known about how these species divide food resources. [...] Read more.
One of the major goals of ecology is to understand how co-habiting species partition limited resources. In the eastern U.S., at least three species of Reticulitermes subterranean termites often occur in sympatry; however, little is known about how these species divide food resources. In this study, we characterized the foraging activity of Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), R. hageni Banks, and R. virginicus (Banks) across seasons to assess the impact of environmental conditions on resource partitioning. A field site consisting of two grids of wooden monitors was sampled monthly for 28 months. Foraging activity in all three species was correlated with the interaction of temperature and moisture. This correlation was influenced by temperature and moisture approximately equally in R. flavipes, whereas temperature contributed more to the correlation in R. hageni, and moisture contributed more in R. virginicus. These differences caused each species to preferentially forage during specific environmental conditions: R. flavipes continued foraging after high moisture events, R. hageni increased foraging under higher soil moisture, and R. virginicus increased foraging under lower soil temperatures. We attempted to explain these patterns by the species’ physiological limits; however, we found no differences in upper lethal limit, desiccation, or submersion limits across species. These results add to the overall understanding of resource partitioning by emphasizing the ability of multiple species to utilize the same resource under different environmental conditions and raise questions regarding the physiological and/or behavioral mechanisms involved. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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19 pages, 2329 KiB  
Article
Strong Gene Flow Undermines Local Adaptations in a Host Parasite System
by Perttu Seppä, Mariaelena Bonelli, Simon Dupont, Sanja Maria Hakala, Anne-Geneviève Bagnères and Maria Cristina Lorenzi
Insects 2020, 11(9), 585; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090585 - 1 Sep 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3004
Abstract
The co-evolutionary pathways followed by hosts and parasites strongly depend on the adaptive potential of antagonists and its underlying genetic architecture. Geographically structured populations of interacting species often experience local differences in the strength of reciprocal selection pressures, which can result in a [...] Read more.
The co-evolutionary pathways followed by hosts and parasites strongly depend on the adaptive potential of antagonists and its underlying genetic architecture. Geographically structured populations of interacting species often experience local differences in the strength of reciprocal selection pressures, which can result in a geographic mosaic of co-evolution. One example of such a system is the boreo-montane social wasp Polistes biglumis and its social parasite Polistes atrimandibularis, which have evolved local defense and counter-defense mechanisms to match their antagonist. In this work, we study spatial genetic structure of P. biglumis and P. atrimandibularis populations at local and regional scales in the Alps, by using nuclear markers (DNA microsatellites, AFLP) and mitochondrial sequences. Both the host and the parasite populations harbored similar amounts of genetic variation. Host populations were not genetically structured at the local scale, but geographic regions were significantly differentiated from each other in both the host and the parasite in all markers. The net dispersal inferred from genetic differentiation was similar in the host and the parasite, which may be due to the annual migration pattern of the parasites between alpine and lowland populations. Thus, the apparent dispersal barriers (i.e., high mountains) do not restrict gene flow as expected and there are no important gene flow differences between the species, which contradict the hypothesis that restricted gene flow is required for local adaptations to evolve. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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15 pages, 2056 KiB  
Article
Host Ant Change of a Socially Parasitic Butterfly (Phengaris alcon) through Host Nest Take-Over
by András Tartally, Anna Ágnes Somogyi, Tamás Révész and David R. Nash
Insects 2020, 11(9), 556; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090556 - 20 Aug 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 5813
Abstract
The socially parasitic Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon) starts its larval stage by feeding on the seeds of gentians, after which it completes development in the nests of suitable Myrmica ant species. The host plant and host ant species can differ [...] Read more.
The socially parasitic Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon) starts its larval stage by feeding on the seeds of gentians, after which it completes development in the nests of suitable Myrmica ant species. The host plant and host ant species can differ at the population level within a region, and local adaptation is common, but some host switches are observed. It has been suggested that one mechanism of change is through the re-adoption of caterpillars by different ant species, either through occupation of abandoned nests or take-over of established nests by competitively superior colonies. To test this question in the lab we introduced relatively strong colonies (50 workers) of alien Myrmica species to the arenas of weaker colonies (two caterpillars with six workers), and to orphaned caterpillars (two caterpillars without ants). We used caterpillars from a xerophylic population of P. alcon, and both local hosts, M. sabuleti and M. scabrinodis, testing the possibility of host switch between these two host ant species during larval development. Most of the caterpillars were successfully readopted by alien ants, and survived well. Our results suggest higher ecological plasticity in host ant usage of this butterfly than generally thought. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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Review

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17 pages, 1149 KiB  
Review
Advances in the Study of Olfaction in Eusocial Ants
by Stephen T. Ferguson, Isaac Bakis and Laurence J. Zwiebel
Insects 2021, 12(3), 252; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12030252 - 17 Mar 2021
Cited by 12 | Viewed by 5976
Abstract
Over the past decade, spurred in part by the sequencing of the first ant genomes, there have been major advances in the field of olfactory myrmecology. With the discovery of a significant expansion of the odorant receptor gene family, considerable efforts have been [...] Read more.
Over the past decade, spurred in part by the sequencing of the first ant genomes, there have been major advances in the field of olfactory myrmecology. With the discovery of a significant expansion of the odorant receptor gene family, considerable efforts have been directed toward understanding the olfactory basis of complex social behaviors in ant colonies. Here, we review recent pivotal studies that have begun to reveal insights into the development of the olfactory system as well as how olfactory stimuli are peripherally and centrally encoded. Despite significant biological and technical impediments, substantial progress has been achieved in the application of gene editing and other molecular techniques that notably distinguish the complex olfactory system of ants from other well-studied insect model systems, such as the fruit fly. In doing so, we hope to draw attention not only to these studies but also to critical knowledge gaps that will serve as a compass for future research endeavors. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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Other

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8 pages, 1176 KiB  
Brief Report
Body Size Differences between Foraging and Intranidal Workers of the Monomorphic Ant Lasius niger
by Mateusz Okrutniak, Bartosz Rom, Filip Turza and Irena M. Grześ
Insects 2020, 11(7), 433; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11070433 - 10 Jul 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 5817
Abstract
The association between the division of labour and worker body size of ants is typical for species that maintain physical castes. Some studies showed that this phenomenon can be also observed in the absence of distinct morphological subcastes among workers. However, the general [...] Read more.
The association between the division of labour and worker body size of ants is typical for species that maintain physical castes. Some studies showed that this phenomenon can be also observed in the absence of distinct morphological subcastes among workers. However, the general and consistent patterns in the size-based division of labour in monomorphic ants are largely unidentified. In this study, we performed a field experiment to investigate the link between worker body size and the division of labour of the ant Lasius niger (Linnaeus, 1758), which displays limited worker size variation. We demonstrated that the body size of workers exploring tuna baits is slightly but significantly smaller than the size of workers located in the upper parts of the nest. Comparing the present results with existing studies, large workers do not seem to be dedicated to work outside the nest. We suggest that monomorphic workers of certain body sizes are flexible in the choice of task they perform, and food type may be the important determinant of this choice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
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