Journal of Chemical Ecology vol:37 issue:12 pages:1365-1373
Split sex ratio theory predicts that when kin structure varies among colonies of social insects, in order to maximize the inclusive fitness, colonies with relatively high sister-sister relatedness should specialize in producing reproductive females, whereas in those with relatively low sister-sister relatedness workers should bias their sex ratio towards males. However, in order to achieve this, workers need to be able to reliably assess the type of colony in which they live. The information on colony kin structure may be encoded in cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), assuming that genetic variability translates accurately into chemical variability. However, in genetically heterogeneous colonies, too accurate information may encourage the pursuit of individual interests through nepotistic behavior and reduce colony efficiency or cause social disruption. In this study, we estimated how well variability of CHC recognition cues reflects colony kin structure in the ant Formica exsecta. Our results show that CHC variability does not covary with kin structure or the overall genetic diversity of the colony, and that patrilines and matrilines can have distinct CHC profiles in some but not all colonies. However, within-colony relatedness remains the key determinant of colony sex ratios. Based on our results, CHC variability cannot serve as accurate information on within-colony relatedness, kin structure, or full-sib affiliation, nor do workers seem to use colony CHC variability as a proxy for sex-ratio adjustment. The use of this type of information thus could lead workers to make mistakes, and it remains unclear how colonies of Formica exsecta adjust offspring sex ratio to their optimal value.