Pheromonal control: reconciling physiological mechanism with signalling theory

Marianne Peso, Mark A. Elgar, Andrew B. Barron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Pheromones are intraspecific chemical signals. They can have profound effects on the behaviour and/or physiology of the receiver, and it is still common to hear pheromones described as controlling of the behaviour of the receiver. The discussion of pheromonal control arose initially from a close association between hormones and pheromones in the comparative physiological literature, but the concept of a controlling pheromone is at odds with contemporary signal evolution theory, which predicts that a manipulative pheromonal signal negatively affecting the receiver's fitness should not be stable over evolutionary time. Here we discuss the meaning of pheromonal control, and the ecological circumstances by which it might be supported. We argue that in discussing pheromonal control it is important to differentiate between control applied to the effects of a pheromone on a receiver's physiology (proximate control), and control applied to the effects of a pheromone on a receiver's fitness (ultimate control). Critically, a pheromone signal affecting change in the receiver's behaviour or physiology need not necessarily manipulate the fitness of a receiver. In cases where pheromonal signalling does lead to a reduction in the fitness of the receiver, the signalling system would be stable if the pheromone were an honest signal of a social environment that disadvantages the receiver, and the physiological and behavioural changes observed in the receiver were an adaptive response to the new social circumstances communicated by the pheromone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-559
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Volume90
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

Keywords

  • pheromone
  • social insect
  • queen pheromone
  • anti-aphrodisiac
  • honest signal

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Pheromonal control: reconciling physiological mechanism with signalling theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this