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. 2017 Jan 1;220(Pt 1):53-62.
doi: 10.1242/jeb.145292.

Caste Development and Evolution in Ants: It's All About Size

Free article

Caste Development and Evolution in Ants: It's All About Size

Waring Trible et al. J Exp Biol. .
Free article


Female ants display a wide variety of morphological castes, including workers, soldiers, ergatoid (worker-like) queens and queens. Alternative caste development within a species arises from a variable array of genetic and environmental factors. Castes themselves are also variable across species and have been repeatedly gained and lost throughout the evolutionary history of ants. Here, we propose a simple theory of caste development and evolution. We propose that female morphology varies as a function of size, such that larger individuals possess more queen-like traits. Thus, the diverse mechanisms that influence caste development are simply mechanisms that affect size in ants. Each caste-associated trait has a unique relationship with size, producing a phenotypic space that permits some combinations of worker- and queen-like traits, but not others. We propose that castes are gained and lost by modifying the regions of this phenotypic space that are realized within a species. These modifications can result from changing the size-frequency distribution of individuals within a species, or by changing the association of tissue growth and size. We hope this synthesis will help unify the literature on caste in ants, and facilitate the discovery of molecular mechanisms underlying caste development and evolution.

Keywords: Body size; Evolutionary developmental biology; Formicidae; Intercaste; Phenotypic plasticity; Polyphenism.

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