Social insect colonies can provide homeostatic conditions that buffer the incidence of environmental fluctuations on individuals, which have contributed to their ecological success. Coptotermes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) is a highly invasive termite genus and several species have important economic impact in many areas of the world. Mature Coptotermes colonies with millions of individuals can provide optimal environmental condition and nurturing capacity for the developing brood. However, it was previously suggested that contrary to mature colonies, incipient colonies may be exposed to critical stress, which may explain for the low success rate of establishment within the first year of the life of a termite colony. We here investigated the stress imposed on individuals of incipient colonies by comparing the developmental instability of individuals between incipient and mature colonies of two Coptotermes species, C. formosanus Shiraki and C. gestroi (Wasmann). We assessed the developmental instability by measuring the asymmetry of morphological traits from the head capsule of the soldier caste. Soldiers from incipient colonies of both species displayed strong asymmetrical traits in comparison to soldiers from mature colonies. We suggested that homeostatic conditions for optimal development are reached as the colony matures, and confirmed that the incipient colony remains a critical bottleneck where individuals are exposed to high developmental stress.
Reference: Chouvenc T., Basille M., Li H.-F., Su N.-Y. (2014) Developmental instability in incipient colonies of social insects. PLOS ONE, 9:e113949. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113949