Data from: Gene expression is more strongly associated with behavioural specialisation than with age or fertility in ant workers
Kohlmeier, Philip et al. (2018), Data from: Gene expression is more strongly associated with behavioural specialisation than with age or fertility in ant workers, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.n0v6d91
The ecological success of social insects is based on division of labour, not only between queens and workers, but also among workers. Whether a worker tends the brood or forages is influenced by age, fertility and nutritional status, with brood carers being younger, more fecund and more corpulent. Here, we experimentally disentangle behavioural specialisation from age and fertility in Temnothorax longispinosus ant workers and analyse how these parameters are linked to whole-body gene expression. A total of 3644 genes were associated with behavioural specialisation which is ten times more than associated with age and 50 times more than associated with fertility. Brood carers were characterized by an upregulation of three Vitellogenin (Vg) genes, one of which, Vg-like A, was the most differentially expressed gene that was recently shown experimentally to control the switch from brood- to worker-care. The expression of Conventional Vg was unlinked to behavioural specialisation, age or fertility, which contrasts to studies on bees and some ants. Diversity in Vg/Vg-like copy number and expression bias across ants supports subfunctionalisation of vitellogenin genes and indicates that some regulatory mechanisms of division of labour diverged in different ant lineages. Simulations revealed that our experimental dissociation of co-varying factors reduced transcriptomic noise, suggesting that confounding factors could potentially explain inconsistencies across transcriptomic studies of behavioural specialisation in ants. Thus, our study reveals that worker gene expression is mainly linked to the worker’s function for the colony and provides novel insights into the evolution of sociality in ants.