A reproductive division of labor is a definitive characteristic of eusocial insect societies and it requires a means through which colony members can assess the presence and productivity of reproductive individuals. Cuticular hydrocarbons are the primary means of doing so across eusocial hymenopterans. However, recent experimental work presents conflicting views on how these chemical signals function, are interpreted by workers, and evolve. These recent advances include demonstrations of hydrocarbons as evolutionarily conserved ‘queen pheromones’ and as species-divergent ‘fertility signals’ used by both queens and workers. In this review, we synthesize conflicting studies into an evolutionary framework suggesting a transition of reproductive communication from cue-like signature mixtures, to learned fertility signals, to innate queen pheromones that evolved across eusocial insects.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science