A microsatellite-based test of the Reticulitermes speratus genetic caste determination model in Coptotermes lacteus

B. Ujvari, B. Li, T. A. Evans, A. King, O. Kitade, N. Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coptotermes lacteus, a termite found in eastern Australia, is a central-site nester that constructs mounds up to 2 m in height. Mature colonies typically contain the primary king and queen, and up to a million or more worker and soldier offspring. Once a year, male and female nymphs are produced in approximately equal numbers and develop into new alates. Experimental removal of the queen in the field and subsequent mating of the king with a replacement queen, results in an unusual phenomenon whereby the production of female nymphs completely ceases, while the production of male nymphs, and workers of both sexes, continues. The proximate cause of this nymph male-bias is yet to be discovered. The production of male nymphs and workers of both sexes in de-queened C. lacteus colonies is equivalent to offspring production patterns in laboratory crosses of male nymphoid (nymph-derived) with female ergatoid (worker-derived) replacement reproductives in the related species Reticulitermes speratus. An X-linked genetically influenced caste determination (GCD) mechanism has been proposed to account for such offspring patterns in R. speratus. We examined microsatellite genotypes in C. lacteus to test a prediction arising from the R. speratus GCD model: that nymphs should result from reproduction by neotenics, rather than the primary pair. In five of six colonies examined, genotypes indicated that all workers and nymphs were derived from a single reproductive pair. In three of these cases, the primary queen was also located and examined; her genotype matched that inferred from worker and nymph genotypes. These results suggest that the GCD model proposed for R. speratus does not apply to C. lacteus, at least under field conditions. The male-nymph bias following queen removal therefore remains an unresolved issue in C. lacteus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-370
Number of pages6
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


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