Journal of Evolutionary Biology vol:23 issue:2 pages:397-406
In social insects, workers trade personal reproduction for indirect fitness returns from helping their mother rear collateral kin. Colony membership is generally used as a proxy for kin discrimination, but the question remains whether recognition allows workers to discriminate between kin and nonkin regardless of colony affiliation. We investigated whether workers of the ant Formica fusca can identify their mother when fostered with their mother, their sisters, a hetero-colonial queen or hetero-colonial workers. We found that workers always displayed less aggression towards both their mother and their foster queen, as compared to an unfamiliar hetero-colonial queen. In support of this finding, workers maintain their colony hydrocarbon profile regardless of foster regime, yet show modifications when exposed to different environments. This indicates that recognition entails environmental and genetic components, which allow both discrimination of kin in the absence of prior contact and learning of recognition cues based on group membership.