Pheromone Communication in Social Insects: Ants, Wasps, Bees, and Termites

Pheromone Communication in Social Insects: Ants, Wasps, Bees, and Termites

Pheromone Communication in Social Insects: Ants, Wasps, Bees, and Termites

Pheromone Communication in Social Insects: Ants, Wasps, Bees, and Termites


Characteristically, social insects rely heavily on behavioral mechanisms and associated pheromonal chemistry to maintain their sociality and to successfully function as a colony unit. Bringing together for the first time prominent researchers in social insect pheromone communication, including nestmate recognition, this book looks at ants, wasps, bees, and termites, highlighting areas of convergence and divergence among these groups, and identifying areas that need further investigation. Presenting broad synthetic overviews as well as species-specific studies, the volume will be useful to natural scientists, ecologists, and those interested in pest management, as well as to anyone interested in the fascinating chemically mediated behavioral interactions of social insects.


All social interactions involve communication, whether mutual attraction, repulsion, identification of species and kin, courtship and parental care, establishment of dominance and division of labor, mutualistic symbiosis or any other form of coexistence.

But what is communication? It is not easy to draw a line between stimuli produced by animals that are truly communicative signals and others that are not, and the definitions given by different authorities in the study of animal communication vary considerably.

Wilson (1975) defines biological communication relatively broadly as "the action on the part of one organism (or cell) that alters the probability pattern of behavior in another organism (or cell) in a fashion adaptive to either one or both of the participants."

Many authors, on the other hand, use the term communication only when the signalling behavior is believed to confer an average statistical benefit to both sender and receiver. In these cases, which Marler (1968) calls "true communication", the transfer of information is mutually adaptive to both participants. These communicative relationships can be exploited by predators and parasites that "intrude" into the signalling system of a prey or host species, either by decoding signals or by imitating signals and thereby manipulating the prey or host.

In a provocative paper Dawkins and Krebs (1978) suggested that all animal communication is a form of manipulation whereby communication or "signalling" is "characterized as a means by which one animal makes use of another animal's muscle power." They argue that "natural selection favors individuals who successfully manipulate the behavior of other individuals, whether or not this is to the advantage of the manipulated individual." These thoughts have led to a lively debate of whether or not animal signals should be "honest" or "dishonest" (see Markl 1985; Zahavi 1986; 1987; Grafen 1991; Maynard-Smith 1991). I do not disagree with the basic thesis of Dawkins and Krebs, which is primarily based on aggressive display behavior. I believe, however, that the "manipulation hypothesis" does not easily explain the evolution of complex communication systems which do promote true inter-individual cooperation, as often documented in the eusocial insects (Hölldobler 1984).

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