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The queens, the workers and the grim reaper: Aging and reproduction in social insects

CMCB external seminar

Date:31.05.2018, 16:00 - 17:00
Speaker: Prof. Jürgen Heinze, University Regensburg
Location: CRTD, ground floor, auditorium left
Host: Dr. Dunja Knapp


Why organisms age and die and why they do so at very different paces are still major puzzles in evolutionary biology. Perennial social insects (honey bees, ants, termites) provide suitable systems to tackle this fundamental problem. In particular ants are characterized by the extraordinarily long lifespan of their reproductive females (queens), which may live tens or hundreds of times longer than non-social insects of similar body size. Furthermore, while many animals show the well-known trade-off between longevity and reproductive success, highly fertile ant queens by far outlive their non-reproductive nestmates.

In my talk I will summarize recent findings from our studies on Cardiocondyla ants, which indicate that both mating and egg laying prolong queen life span. Furthermore, our studies show that individual life span is greatly affected by the queen’s social environment without any changes in external mortality risks. The genome of Cardiocondyla obscurior has recently been fully sequenced and we currently use functional genomics and bioinformatics to disentangle the genomic interrelations between reproduction and senescence in social evolution.

5 most important publications:

  1. Schrempf A, Giehr J, Röhrl R, Steigleder S, Heinze J (2017) Royal Darwinian demons: enforced changes in reproductive efforts do not affect the life expectancy of ant queens. Am Nat 189: 436-442
  2. Heinze J (2017) Life history evolution in ants: the case of Cardiocondyla. Proc R Soc Lond B 284: 20161406
  3. Korb J, Heinze J (2016) Major hurdles for the evolution of sociality. Annu Rev Entomol 61: 297–316
  4. von Wyschetzki K, Rueppell O, Oettler J, Heinze J (2015) Transcriptomic signatures mirror the lack of the fecundity / longevity trade-off in ant queens. Mol Biol Evol 32: 3173-3185
  5. Von Wyschetzki K, Lowack H, Heinze J (2016) Transcriptomic response to injury sheds light on the physiological costs of reproduction in ant queens. Mol Ecol 25, 1972-1985

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