An important area of social insect biology concerns the causes and consequences of colony breeding structure, i.e., the number of reproductives heading colonies and the degree of relatedness among them. Termite colonies have a complicated life history, starting as simple families headed by monogamous pairs of reproductives (king and queen) that can later be replaced by secondary reproductives who inbreed within the colony to form extended families. In addition, colonies can sometimes be mixed families headed multiple unrelated reproductives. We use highly variable molecular markers, primarily microsatellites, to determine colony breeding structure and levels of inbreeding in subterranean termites. Our goal is to determine the role of ecological factors in shaping termite breeding systems. We are currently studying species of Reticulitermes and Coptotermes in the U.S., Europe, China and Japan.
Collaborators: Anne-Geneviève Bagnères (University of Tours, France), Claudia Husseneder (Louisiana State University), Kenji Matsuura (Okayama University, Japan) and Mo Jianchu (Zhejiang University, China).
- Vargo, E. L., P. E. Labadie and K. Matsuura. 2011. Asexual queens succession in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes virginicus. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B. Published online 10 August 2011.
- Matsuura, K., E. L. Vargo, K. Kawatsu, P. E. Labadie, H. Nakano, T. Yashiro and K. Tsuji. 2009. Queen succession through asexual reproduction in termites. Science 323:1687.
- Vargo, E. L. and C. Husseneder. 2009. The biology of subterranean termites: Insights from molecular studies on Reticulitermes and Coptotermes. Annual Review of Entomology 54: 379-403.
- DeHeer, C. J. and E. L. Vargo. 2006. An indirect test of inbreeding depression in the termites Reticulitermes flavipes and R. virginicus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 59: 753-761.
- DeHeer, C. J., M. Kutnik, E. L. Vargo and A. –G. Bagnères. 2005. The breeding system and population structure of the termite Reticulitermes grassei in southern France. Heredity 95: 408-415.
- Vargo, E. L. 2003. Hierarchical analysis of colony and population genetic structure of the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, using two classes of molecular markers. Evolution 57: 2805-2818.