Termite males enhance mating encounters by changing speed according to density

Nobuaki Mizumoto, Arturo Rizo, Stephen C. Pratt, Thomas Chouvenc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Search theory predicts that animals evolve efficient movement patterns to enhance encounter rates with specific targets. The optimal movements vary with the surrounding environments, which may explain the observation that animals often switch their movement patterns depending on conditions. However, the effectiveness of behavioural change during search is rarely evaluated because it is difficult to examine the actual encounter dynamics. Here we studied how partner-seeking termites update their search strategies depending on the local densities of potential mates. After a dispersal flight, termites drop their wings and walk to search for a mate; when a female and a male meet, they form a female-led tandem pair and search for a favourable nesting site. If a pair is separated, they have two search options—reunite with their stray partner, or seek a new partner. We hypothesized that the density of individuals affects separation–reunion dynamics and thus the optimal search strategy. We observed the searching process across different densities and found that termite pairs were often separated but obtained a new partner quickly at high mate density. After separation, while females consistently slowed down, males increased their speed according to the density. Under high mate density, separated males obtained a partner earlier than females, who do not change movement with density. Our data-based simulations confirmed that the observed behavioural change by males contributes to enhancing encounters. Males at very low mate densities did best to move slowly and thereby reduce the risk of missing their stray partner, who is the only available mate. On the other hand, males that experienced high mate densities did better in mating encounters by moving fast because the risk of isolation is low, and they must compete with other males to find a partner. These results demonstrate that termite males adaptively update their search strategy depending on conditions. Understanding the encounter dynamics experienced by animals is key to connecting the empirical work to the idealized search processes of theoretical studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2542-2552
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • mate search
  • movement ecology
  • random search
  • sexual selection
  • social insects
  • tandem runs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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