Ergatoid queen development in the ant Myrmecina nipponica : modular and heterochronic regulation of caste differentiation
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Caste polyphenism in social insects provides us with excellent opportunities to examine the plasticity and robustness underlying developmental pathways. Several ant species have evolved unusual castes showing intermediate morphologies between alate queens and wingless workers. In some low-temperature habitats, the ant Myrmecina nipponica produces such intermediate reproductives (i.e. ergatoids), which can mate and store sperm but cannot fly. To gain insight into the developmental and evolutionary aspects associated with ergatoid production, we conducted morphological and histological examinations of the postembryonic development of compound eyes, gonads and wings during the process of caste differentiation. In compound eyes, both the queen-worker and ergatoid-worker differences were already recognized at the third larval instar. In gonads, queen-worker differentiation began at the larval stage, and ergatoid-worker differentiation began between the prepupal and pupal stages. Wing development in ergatoids was generally similar to that in workers throughout postembryonic development. Our results showed that the developmental rate and timing of differentiation in body parts differed among castes and among body parts. These differences suggest that the rearrangement of modular body parts by heterochronic developmental regulation is responsible for the origination of novel castes, which are considered to be adaptations to specific ecological niches.
- Proceedings of the Royal Society B : Biological Sciences
Proceedings of the Royal Society B : Biological Sciences 277(1690), 1953-1961, 2010-07-07
The Royal Society