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Unrelated queens coexist in colonies of the termite Macrotermes michaelseni


Roland Brandl, Fax: + 49 (0)6421 28 23406; E-mail:


Relatedness increases the likelihood of cooperation within colonies of social insects. Polygyny, the coexistence of numerous reproductive females (queens) in a colony, is common in mature colonies of the termite Macrotermes michaelseni. In this species, polygyny results from pleometrosis and from several female alates that jointly found a new colony. To explain this phenomenon, it was suggested that only related females cooperate and survive during maturation of colonies. Using multilocus fingerprints as well as microsatellites, we showed that nestmate queens in mature colonies are unrelated. Furthermore, we found that all nestmate queens contributed to the production of steriles. Even in mature colonies, several matrilines of steriles coexist within a colony. Although genetic diversity within colonies may increase the likelihood of conflicts, high genetic diversity may be important for foraging, colony growth, and resistance to disease and parasites.