Stress and early experience underlie dominance status and division of labour in a clonal insect

Bernadou A, Schrader L, Pable J, Hoffacker E, Meusemann K, Heinze J

Research article (journal)


Cooperation and division of labour are fundamental in the ‘major transitions’ in evolution. While the factors regulating cell differentiation in multi-cellular organisms are quite well understood, we are just beginning to unveil the mechanisms underlying individual specialization in cooperative groups of animals. Clonal ants allow the study of which factors influence task allocation without confounding variation in genotype and morphology. Here, we subjected larvae and freshly hatched workers of the clonal ant Platythyrea punctata to different rearing conditions and investigated how these manipulations affected division of labour among pairs of oppositely treated, same-aged clonemates. High rearing temperature, physical stress, injury and malnutrition increased the propensity of individuals to become subordinate foragers rather than dominant reproductives. This is reflected in changed gene regulation: early stages of division of labour were associated with different expression of genes involved in nutrient signalling pathways, metabolism and the phenotypic response to environmental stimuli. Many of these genes appear to be capable of responding to a broad range of stressors. They might link environmental stimuli to behavioural and phenotypic changes and could therefore be more broadly involved in caste differentiation in social insects. Our experiments also shed light on the causes of behavioural variation among genetically identical individuals.

Details zur Publikation

Release year: 2018
Language in which the publication is writtenEnglish
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