Evolution of cuticular hydrocarbon diversity in ants

Authors

  • E. van WILGENBURG,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., Australia
    2. Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • M. R. E. SYMONDS,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., Australia
    2. School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic., Australia
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • M. A. ELGAR

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., Australia
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Ellen van Wilgenburg, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia.
Tel.: +61 3 8344 6264; fax: +61 3 8344 7909; e-mail: ellenv@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

The cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) of ants provide important cues for nest-mate and caste recognition. There is enormous diversity in the composition of these CHCs, but the manner in which this diversity has evolved is poorly understood. We gathered data on CHC profiles for 56 ant species, relating this information to their phylogeny. We deduced the mode of evolution of CHC profiles by reconstructing character evolution and then relating the number of changes in CHC components along each branch of the phylogeny to the length of the branch. There was a strong correlation between branch length and number of component changes, with fewer changes occurring on short branches. Our analysis thereby indicated a gradual mode of evolution. Different ant species tend to use specific CHC structural types that are exclusive of other structural types, indicating that species differences may be generated in part by switching particular biosynthetic pathways on or off in different lineages. We found limited, and contradictory, evidence for abiotic factors (temperature and rainfall) driving change in CHC profiles.

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