Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste in termites: a validation of the intrinsic benefit hypothesis

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In termites the evolution of reproductive altruism is not based on a particularly high relatedness between nestmates. For the evolution and maintenance of the ancestral sterile soldier caste, the benefits generated by the soldiers' presence must compensate the loss of the soldiers' reproductive potential. To study the impact of soldiers on colony's fitness, we manipulated the proportion of soldiers to nonsoldiers in colonies of the dry-wood termite Cryptotermes secundus.‘Soldier-less’ colonies were obtained by removing soldiers and inhibiting their development with an extract of soldier heads. The colonies were set up for 1 year in experimental nests in the field. ‘Soldier-less’ colonies produced fewer soldiers. The reduction of soldiers neither affected colony survival nor helper growth, but fewer dispersing sexuals were produced in ‘soldier-less’ than in control colonies. This confirms what was only supposed so far, that in termites soldiers are maintained for their intrinsic benefit to cost ratio.

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