Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste in termites: Influence of intraspecific competition and accelerated inheritance
We present new hypotheses and report experimental evidence for powerful selective forces impelling the evolution of both eusociality and the soldier caste in termites. Termite ancestors likely had a nesting and developmental life history similar to that of the living family Termopsidae, in which foraging does not occur outside the host wood, and nonsoldier helpers retain lifelong options for differentiation into reproductives. A local neighborhood of families that live exclusively within a limited resource results in interactions between conspecific colonies, high mortality of founding reproductives, and opportunities for accelerated inheritance of the nest and population by offspring that differentiate into nondispersing neotenic reproductives. In addition, fertile reproductive soldiers, a type of neotenic previously considered rare and docile, frequently develop in this intraspecific competitive context. They can be highly aggressive in subsequent interactions, supporting the hypothesis that intercolonial battles influenced the evolution of modern sterile termite soldier weaponry and behaviors.