Worker division of labor and endocrine physiology are associated in the harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus

Adam G. Dolezal, Colin S. Brent, Bert Hölldobler, Gro V. Amdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Pogonomyrmex californicus harvester ants, an age-associated division of labor occurs in the worker caste, in which young workers perform in-nest tasks and older workers forage for food. Here, we tested whether this behavioral division is age based or age flexible, and whether it coincides with differential expression of systemic hormones with known roles in behavioral regulation. Whole-body content of juvenile hormone (JH) and ecdysteroids was determined in workers from (1) age-typical colonies, in which a typical age structure is maintained and workers transition across behaviors naturally, and (2) single-cohort colonies, which are entirely composed of same-aged workers, facilitating the establishment of age-independent division of labor. Foragers from both colony types had higher JH and lower ecdysteroid content than workers performing in-nest tasks, suggesting that age is not the sole determinant of worker behavior. This association between hormone content and behavior of P. californicus workers is similar to that previously observed in founding queens of this species. Because these hormones are key regulators of development and reproductive behavior, our data are consistent with the reproductive ground plan hypothesis (RGPH), which posits that the reproductive regulatory mechanisms of solitary ancestors were co-opted to regulate worker behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)454-460
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Division of labor
  • Ecdysteroids
  • Endocrine
  • Formicidae
  • Juvenile hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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