Inter- and intra-specific colony interactions in subterranean termites, Reticulitermes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)
Mark A. Janowiecki, Mark A. Janowiecki , Edward L. Vargo
Texas A&M University, USA; Texas A&M University, USA ; Texas A&M University, USA
Territoriality, the occupation and defense of an area, is common across animals. In social insects, like termites, this can vary from nests, food items, foraging trails, to entire foraging areas. This project examines territoriality in subterranean termites, Reticulitermes, by investigating how termites react to opposing termite colonies. To tease apart this process, a field site was established in Huntsville, Texas with two grids of pine stakes. Samples from these monitors were collected monthly, genetically identified to species, and genotyped with microsatellite markers to determine colony identity. In the first 18 months (September 2016 to February 2018), termite activity appears to be correlated with soil temperature. Termites from this field site were collected and brought back into the laboratory for behavioral studies. Planar assays, where an area of media is sandwiched between two sheets of Plexiglas allowing termites to tunnel in a 2 dimensional space, will be used as a field relevant test of aggression. Unique colonies of the same and different species will be paired and differentiated by feeding on dyed filter paper. Measurements of tunnel area, tunneling speed, and aggressive interactions will be compared to determine the reaction of opposing colonies. Finally, areas of colony foraging overlap in the field will be closely observed to validate the behavioral assays in a realistic environment. A better grasp of these processes is important to a more complete understanding of termite biology.