Colony and population genetic structure of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, in Japan. Academic Article uri icon


  • Subterranean termites have unusual plasticity in their breeding systems. As a result of their cryptic foraging and nesting habits, detailed information on the numbers and types of reproductive individuals in colonies has been difficult to obtain. In this study, we used microsatellite markers to infer the major features of the breeding system of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, in southern Japan, where it is believed to have been introduced from China. A total of 30 colonies was sampled from two islands (Kyushu and Fukue) located 100 km apart. Twenty workers from each colony were genotyped at six microsatellite loci. Analysis of worker genotypes within colonies indicated that 27 colonies (90%) were simple (Mendelian) families. The remaining three colonies, all from Kyushu, were consistent with being extended families having begun as simple families but being currently headed by multiple neotenic (secondary) reproductives descended from the original king and queen. Workers from simple families in both populations were significantly inbred (FIT = 0.10 for Kyushu and 0.46 for Fukue) and highly related to their nestmates (coefficient of relatedness, r = 0.59 for Kyushu and 0.77 for Fukue), suggesting that many simple-family colonies were headed by closely related reproductives, especially in the Fukue population. This conclusion is supported by the high coefficient of relatedness between nestmate reproductives in simple-family colonies (r = 0.23 for Kyushu and 0.61 for Fukue) based on genotypes inferred from their worker offspring. There was moderate genetic differentiation (FST = 0.12) between the two populations, suggesting rather restricted gene flow between them. There was no significant isolation by distance among colonies, as might be expected given the limited dispersal of reproductives, presumably because of the frequent movement of colonies by humans. Finally, there was no evidence of a recent bottleneck, a finding possibly consistent with the more than 300-year history of this species in Japan.

published proceedings

  • Mol Ecol

author list (cited authors)

  • Vargo, E. L., Husseneder, C., & Grace, J. K.

citation count

  • 80

complete list of authors

  • Vargo, Edward L||Husseneder, Claudia||Grace, J Kenneth

publication date

  • October 2003