Diversity of Termite Breeding Systems
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Termites are social insects that live in colonies headed by reproductive castes. The breeding system is defined by the number of reproductive individuals in a colony and the castes to which they belong. There is tremendous variation in the breeding system of termites both within and among species. The current state of our understanding of termite breeding systems is reviewed. Most termite colonies are founded by a primary (alate-derived) king and queen who mate and produce the other colony members. In some species, colonies continue throughout their life span as simple families headed by the original king and queen. In others, the primary king and queen are replaced by numerous neotenic (nymph- or worker-derived) reproductives, or less commonly primary reproductives, that are descendants of the original founding pair leading to inbreeding in the colony. In still others, colonies can have multiple unrelated reproductives due to either founding the colonies as groups or through colony fusion. More recently, parthenogenetic reproduction has shown to be important in some termite species and may be widespread. A major challenge in termite biology is to understand the ecological and evolutionary factors driving the variation in termite breeding systems.
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