The cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) of ants provide important cues for nestmate and caste recognition. There is enormous diversity in the composition of these CHCs, but the manner in which this diversity has evolved is poorly understood. We gathered data on CHC profiles for 56 ant species, relating this information to their phylogeny. We deduced the mode of evolution of CHC profiles by reconstructing character evolution and then relating the number of changes in CHC components along each branch of the phylogeny to the length of the branch. There was a strong correlation between branch length and number of component changes, with fewer changes occurring on short branches. Our analysis thereby indicated a gradual mode of evolution. Different ant species tend to use specific CHC structural types that are exclusive of other structural types, indicating that species differences may be generated in part by switching particular biosynthetic pathways on or off in different lineages. We found limited, and contradictory, evidence for abiotic factors (temperature and rainfall) driving change in CHC profiles.
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