Four years ago, entomologists at the University of Sydney discovered the existence of all-female, forest-dwelling drywood termite colonies in Japan. Now, they have determined how they evolved, and the implications of insect ‘girl power’ for established termite species (hint: they’re bad).
Their new research shows all-female colonies of drywood termites (Glyptotermes nakajimai) developed through unwitting human-assisted hybridisation some time in the last century. Females from one lineage mated with males from another, as one lineage was unknowingly moved from a smaller island to mainland Japan, likely via boat. Their hybrid offspring are more genetically diverse, and likely to be more robust.
In addition to stronger offspring, the all-female colonies can clone themselves and do not require a male to procreate, resulting in double the amount of breeding. According to the researchers, this is bad news for the incumbent, non-hybrid species, which can be outcompeted by its hybrid relatives.