The mating biology of termites: a comparative review
Eusocial living influences mating system evolution if kin selection selects for a low number of
fathers to increase helper relatedness and helping incentive. Consequently, polyandry resulting in
pre- and postcopulatory sexual selection is restricted in social compared to nonsocial species.
Despite a growing body of literature, empirical studies are still needed to understand fully the
effects of kin selection on mating system evolution or vice versa. Here we review the mating biology
of termites and conclude that they make interesting study species to unravel the evolutionary
interplay between mating system evolution and eusociality. A number of reproductive characteristics
of termites differ substantially from those of other insects. Polyandry appears to be mostly absent
in termites and lifetime pair formation is achieved early in life, after an initial dispersal flight.
The consequent absence of postcopulatory sexual selection coincides with the loss of a number of
reproductive traits, such as elaborate male and female genitalia, flagellated sperm and seminal
fluid-producing male accessory glands. The absence of sexually selected, female-harming male traits
suggests that the interests of males and females are well aligned in most termites, fostering the
evolution of kings, males with life expectancies comparable to those of queens and the ability to
supply sperm continuously. Comparative work on mating system evolution between the diplodiploid
termites and the haplodiploid hymenopteran social insects can be used to explain the influence of
kin selection. We conclude that the study of social insect reproduction offers exciting opportunities
to understand the evolutionary interplay between sexual, natural and kin selection.
Ant; bee; copulation; sexual selection; social insect; sperm storage; termite; wasp