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Chemical cOmmunication coDe of InseCt societiES

Final Activity Report Summary - CODICES (Chemical cOmmunication coDe of InseCt societiES)

The evolutionary forces underlying major transitions from solitary to social life are not fully understood. Social insects represent one of the pinnacles of social evolution and therefore are ideal model systems to study the organisation of complex societies. At the core of a successful society there is efficient communication and recognition of group members from competitors and parasites.

The project CODICES used an interdisciplinary approach to understand the principles that have shaped chemical communication and recognition in insect societies of different size, kin structure, and ecological pressure. The work produced a number of original and innovative results that will change the way people think about social recognition. For example, the team showed for the first time the occurrence of individual recognition in ants and the fact that this sophisticated ability is based on long-term memory of individual identity. Another ground breaking result is the demonstration of the existence of a specialised caste of workers in charge of maintaining order in the society by punishing selfish individuals.

The commonly accepted paradigm of nestmate recognition has been challenged by the CODICES team by showing that ants do not specifically recognise nestmates, but rather recognise and reject non-nestmates bearing odour cues that are novel to their own colony odour. Furthermore, the team published a new method to separate chemical and behavioural cues for the study of social recognition. The relevance of studies on social communication for the broad scientific audience is testified by several positive reviews of recently published book Sociobiology of Communication (Oxford University Press), co-edited by the team leader.