Judith Korb

Judith Korb
University of Freiburg | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg · Institute of Biology I

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184
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Introduction

Publications

Publications (184)
Article
Termites are essential components of tropical ecosystems, in which they provide fundamental ecosystem services, such as decomposition of dead plant material, fostering of soil mineralization and provisioning of new microhabitats. We investigated the termite communities of four habitats in two protected areas in West Africa, which differ in manageme...
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The evolution of eusociality in social insects, such as termites, ants, and some bees and wasps, has been regarded as a major evolutionary transition (MET). Yet, there is some debate whether all species qualify. Here, we argue that worker sterility is a decisive criterion to determine whether species have passed a MET (= superorganisms), or not. Wh...
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Division of labour characterizes all major evolutionary transitions, such as the evolution of eukaryotic cells or multicellular organisms. Social insects are characterized by reproductive division of labour, with one or a few reproducing individuals (queens) and many non-reproducing nestmates (workers) forming a colony. Among the workers, further d...
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Rugitermes ursulae sp. nov. is described from a sample collected inside a dead branch in a tropical dry forest of Colombia’s Caribbean coast using molecular information and external morphological characters of the imago and soldier castes. Rugitermes ursulae sp. nov. soldiers and imagoes are the smallest among all described Rugitermes species. The...
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Background Most insects are relatively short-lived, with a maximum lifespan of a few weeks, like the aging model organism, the fruit-fly Drosophila melanogaster . By contrast, the queens of many social insects (termites, ants and some bees) can live from a few years to decades. This makes social insects promising models in aging research providing...
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The life-prolonging effects of antioxidants have long entered popular culture, but the scientific community still debates whether free radicals and the resulting oxidative stress negatively affect longevity. Social insects are intriguing models for analysing the relationship between oxidative stress and senescence because life histories differ vast...
Article
Individual lifespans vary tremendously between and also within species, but the proximate and ultimate causes of different ageing speeds are still not well understood. Sociality appears to be associated with the evolution of greater longevity and probably also with a larger plasticity of the shape and pace of ageing. For example, reproductives of s...
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The exceptional longevity of social insect queens despite their lifelong high fecundity remains poorly understood in ageing biology. To gain insights into the mechanisms that might underlie ageing in social insects, we compared gene expression patterns between young and old castes (both queens and workers) across different lineages of social insect...
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Social insects seem to have overcome the almost universal trade-off between fecundity and longevity as queens can be highly fecund and at the same time reach lifespans of decades. By contrast, their non-reproducing workers are often short-lived. One hypothesis to explain the long lifespan of queens is that they are better protected against stress t...
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Organisms are typically characterized by a trade-off between fecundity and longevity. Notable exceptions are social insects. In insect colonies, the reproducing caste (queens) outlive their non-reproducing nestmate workers by orders of magnitude and realize fecundities and lifespans unparalleled among insects. How this is achieved is not understood...
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Termites are “social cockroaches” and amongst the most phenotypically plastic insects. The different castes (i.e., two types of reproductives, workers, and soldiers) within termite societies are all encoded by a single genome and present the result of differential postembryonic development. Besides the default progressive development into winged se...
Preprint
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Background: Most insects are relatively short-lived, with a maximum lifespan of a few weeks, like the aging model organism, the fruit-fly Drosophila melanogaster. By contrast, the queens of social insects (termites, ants, some bees and wasps) can live for more than a decade. This makes social insects promising new models in aging research providing...
Article
Full-text available
Fungus-growing termites (Isoptera: Macrotermitinae) dominate African savannah ecosystems where they play important roles in ecosystem functioning. Their ecological dominance in these ecosystems has been attributed to living in an ectosymbiosis with fungi of the genus Termitomyces (Lyophyllaceae). Evolutionary theory predicts that the transmission m...
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In non-pedigreed populations, insights into effects of inbreeding can be obtained by correlations between individual heterozygosity and fitness-related traits (HFCs). Using an information-theoretic approach, we explored whether heterozygosity of microsatellite markers, measured as internal relatedness (IR), is associated with infection by blood par...
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Selection pressures from pathogens appear to play an important role in shaping social evolution. Social behavior, in particular brood care, is associated with pathogen pressure in wood-dwelling “lower” termites. Yet, generally pathogen pressure is predicted to be low in wood-dwelling termite species that never leave the nest except for the mating f...
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Background Elucidating the interplay between hosts and their microbiomes in ecological adaptation has become a central theme in evolutionary biology. A textbook example of microbiome-mediated adaptation is the adaptation of lower termites to a wood-based diet, as they depend on their gut microbiome to digest wood. Lower termites have further adapte...
Preprint
Full-text available
It has been hypothesized that selection pressure from pathogens plays an important role in shaping social evolution. Social behaviour, in particular brood care, is associated with pathogen pressure in wood-dwelling “lower” termites. Yet, generally pathogen pressure is low in wood-dwelling termite species that never leave the nest except for the mat...
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Full-text available
Termites (Isoptera) are important ecosystem engineers of tropical ecosystems. However, they are notoriously difficult to identify, which hinders ecological research. To overcome these problems, we comparatively studied termite assemblages in the two major West African ecosystems, savannah and forest, both under natural settings and along disturbanc...
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We studied the impact of debarking of medicinal tree species on the diversity of xylophagous beetles in Lama Forest Reserve, in Lokoli swampy forest and in crop fields surrounded Lokoli forest. A total of 108 interception traps were set up on debarked and nondebarked trees covering nine medicinal plants that are Anogeissus leiocarpa, Dialium guinee...
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In birds, vector-borne parasites invading the bloodstream are important agents of disease, affect fitness and shape population viability, thus being of conservation interest. Here, we molecularly identified protozoan blood parasites in two populations of the threatened Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola , a migratory passerine nesting in open...
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The mechanisms that structure species communities are still debated. We addressed this question for termite assemblages from tropical dry forests in Colombia. These forests are endangered and poorly understood ecosystems and termites are important ecosystem engineers in the tropics. Using biodiversity and environmental data, combined with phylogene...
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Termites are ecosystem engineers that play an important role in the biotransformation and re‐distribution of nutrients in soil. The dry forests are endemic repositories, but at same time, they are most threatened by extensive livestock and crop farming, fires, and climate change. In Colombia, the best‐protected dry forests are located in the north....
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Social insects provide promising new avenues for aging research. Within a colony, individuals that share the same genetic background can differ in lifespan by up to two orders of magnitude. Reproducing queens (and in termites also kings) can live for more than 20 years, extraordinary lifespans for insects. We studied aging in a termite species, Cry...
Preprint
Full-text available
Background Elucidating the interplay between hosts and their microbiomes in ecological adaptation has become a central theme in evolutionary biology. A textbook example of microbiome-mediated adaptation is the adaptation of lower termites to a wood-based diet, as they depend on their gut microbiome to digest wood. Lower termites have further adapte...
Article
Full-text available
Termites are important ecosystem engineers. Yet they are often difficult to identify due to the lack of reliable species-specific morphological traits for many species, which hampers ecological research. Recently, termitologists working with West African termites (West African Termite Taxonomy Initiative) convened for a workshop with the aim of beg...
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Background: Termites are important ecosystem engineers, crucial for the maintenance of tropical biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. But they are also pests which cause billions of dollars in damage annually to humans. Currently, our understanding of the mechanisms influencing species occurrences is limited and we do not know what distinguishes...
Article
1. Termites consume a wide range of plant material at different stages of decomposition and, accordingly, have been classified into ‘feeding groups’. African savannah ecosystems harbour many termite species, yet most belong to Termitidae. Especially striking is the co‐occurrence of up to eight Macrotermitinae and five Trinervitermes species, each h...
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Termites evolved eusociality independently from social Hymenoptera. As a common trait, reproductive monopoly is maintained through chemical communication. The queen (and in termites also a king) prevents workers from reproduction by conveying their reproductive status. In termites all soldiers are sterile, but workers' potential to reproduce differ...
Article
Social insects show an extreme degree of phenotypic plasticity. In highly eusocial species, this manifests in the generation of distinct castes with extreme differences in both morphology and life span. The molecular basis of these differences is highly entangled and not fully understood, but several recent studies demonstrated that insulin/insulin...
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Social insects are promising new models in aging research. Within single colonies, longevity differences of several magnitudes exist that can be found elsewhere only between different species. Reproducing queens (and, in termites, also kings) can live for several decades, whereas sterile workers often have a lifespan of a few weeks only. We studied...
Article
The evolution of division of labor between sterile and fertile individuals represents one of the major transitions in biological complexity. A fascinating gradient in eusociality evolved among the ancient hemimetabolous insects, ranging from noneusocial cockroaches through the primitively social lower termites—where workers retain the ability to re...
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The processes that structure communities are still largely unknown. Therefore, we tested whether southern African termite communities show signs of environmental filtering and/or competition along a rainfall gradient in Namibia using phylogenetic information. Our results revealed a regional species pool of 11 species and we found no evidence for ph...
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Around 150 million years ago, eusocial termites evolved from within the cockroaches, 50 million years before eusocial Hymenoptera, such as bees and ants, appeared. Here, we report the 2-Gb genome of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica, and the 1.3-Gb genome of the drywood termite Cryptotermes secundus. We show evolutionary signatures of termi...
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The gut microbiome of lower termites comprises protists and bacteria that help these insects to digest cellulose and to thrive on wood. The composition of the termite gut microbiome correlates with phylogenetic distance of the animal host and host ecology (diet) in termites collected from their natural environment. However, carryover of transient m...
Preprint
Full-text available
Around 150 million years ago, eusocial termites evolved from within the cockroaches, 50 million years before eusocial Hymenoptera, such as bees and ants, appeared. Here, we report the first, 2GB genome of a cockroach, Blattella germanica , and the 1.3GB genome of the drywood termite, Cryptotermes secundus . We show evolutionary signatures of termit...
Preprint
Full-text available
Termites are important ecosystem engineers, crucial for the maintenance of tropical biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. But they are also pests which cause billions of dollars in damage annually to humans. Currently, our understanding of the mechanisms influencing species occurrences is limited and we do not know what distinguishes pest from no...
Article
Cooperative breeding occurs when individuals help raise the offspring of others. It is widely accepted that help displayed by cooperative breeders emerged only after individuals' tendency to delay dispersal had become established. We use this idea as a basis for two inclusive-fitness models: one for the evolution of delayed dispersal, and a second...
Article
Termites are social Dictyoptera that evolved eusociality independently from social Hymenoptera. They are characterized by unique developmental plasticity that is the basis of caste differentiation and social organization. As developmental plasticity is a result of endocrine regulation, in order to understand the evolution of termite sociality it is...
Chapter
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Wasps encompass solitary, communal, and facultative, obligate, and swarm-founding social species and are important model organisms for study of the origin and elaboration of insect sociality. Common names for social species are hover wasps, paper wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, and swarm-founding wasps. Excepting a few communal species, all social w...
Preprint
The role of microbes in adaptation of higher organisms to the environment is becoming increasingly evident, but remains poorly understood. Protist and bacterial microbes facilitate that lower termites thrive on wood and are directly involved in substrate break down. During the course of evolution lower termites adapted to different diets and lifest...
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After more than one hundred years, a new drywood termite of the genus Proneotermes is described from the tropical dry forest in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Morphological and genetic analyses are given for Proneotermes macondianus sp. n. This termite occurs in tropical dry forests in small colonies inside thin branches of dry wood. The soldier...
Article
Social insects are characterized by an apparent reshaping of the fecundity/longevity trade-off with sociality. Currently, we have only sketchy information about the potential underlying causes and mechanisms of aging and senescence which in addition are restricted to few model insect organisms (mainly the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the h...