E Van Wilgenburg*, MRE Symonds* (*joint first authors), MA Elgar (2011) Evolution of cuticular hydrocarbon diversity in ants. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24: 1188-1198 PDF

What’s it about?

We performed a comparative analysis of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in ants and showed that there is evidence for gradual evolution (small changes over time) in the chemical composition of these signature cues used in kin recognition. We found less evidence that environment (hot, humid, cold, dry) plays a role in determining elements of composition.

What’s the story behind it?

I’ve known Ellen Van Wilgenburg now since 2002, when she was a new PhD student in Mark Elgar’s group whilst I was doing my first post-doc. With my interest in evolution of pheromones, and hers in kin recognition and cuticular hydrocarbons, it seemed only natural that we would eventually collaborate on this kind of thing. It was a fun collaboration, and we are currently trying to reignite the spark with another analysis looking at antennal diversity in ants. This paper was very easy to deal with, and had some very nice reviews, but really the taxonomic scope was too broad but intermittent phylogenetically (c. 60 species from across the entire taxonomic range of ants) to really nail the patterns that we wanted to. I’m hoping to be able to focus future research on ants closer to the species level, rather than genus level.

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