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Keywords:

  • chemotaxonomy;
  • cuticular hydrocarbons;
  • divergent selection;
  • Lasius;
  • niche differentiation;
  • social insects;
  • speciation

Abstract

Cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) are increasingly recognized as important to insects and are used for constructing taxonomies. However, multiple parameters affect the expression of CHCs besides a genetic component. We propose that selection may act differently on the expression of CHCs, depending on the evolutionary context. To explore the influence of selection, the CHCs of two closely related ant species, Lasius niger and Lasius platythorax, were studied in a multidisciplinary approach. We characterized (i) CHCs and (ii) niches (through baiting, activity observations and foraging analysis). The species were distinct in both measures, although to a varying degree. Although they showed moderate niche partitioning along diet and environmental preferences, chemical differences were unexpectedly pronounced. This may be explained by divergent selection on mate recognition cues or by other influences on CHCs. Such striking chemical differences among closely related species may not be the rule and suggest that taxonomies based on CHCs should be interpreted cautiously; though, they remain useful tools for differentiating among cryptic species.