Tom Wenseleers

Tom Wenseleers
KU Leuven | ku leuven · Department of Biology

Professor of Evolutionary Biology

About

249
Publications
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Introduction
I am an evolutionary biologist with a broad interest in the fundamental forces and processes that drive social behaviour and other complex traits in nature. To study these, my lab makes use of diverse model systems, ranging from microorganisms to insects, humans and intelligent robot swarms, and makes use of diverse techniques and approaches, including behavioural observation, theoretical modelling and comparative analyses. Among the techniques we use are video-assisted behavioural observation, pheromone bioassays and analyses using GC/MS, evolutionary modeling, experimental games with human subjects, computer programming, genetic analysis of kinship patterns, microarray analysis and next-gen sequencing.

Publications

Publications (249)
Article
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Paternity testing using genetic markers has shown that extra-pair paternity (EPP) is common in many pair-bonded species [1, 2]. Evolutionary theory and empirical data show that extra-pair copulations can increase the fitness of males as well as females [3, 4]. This can carry a significant fitness cost for the social father, who then invests in rear...
Article
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The evolutionary origin of queen pheromones (QPs), which regulate reproductive division of labor in insect societies, has been explained by two evolutionary scenarios: the sender-precursor hypothesis and the sensory exploitation hypothesis. These scenarios differ in terms of whether the signaling system was built on preadaptations on the part of ei...
Article
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Queen pheromones, which signal the presence of a fertile queen and induce workers to remain sterile, play a key role in regulating reproductive division of labour in insect societies. In the honeybee, volatiles produced by the queen’s mandibular glands have been argued to act as the primary sterility-inducing pheromones. This contrasts with evidenc...
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Individuals face many types of social interactions throughout their lives, but they often cannot perfectly assess what the consequences of their actions will be. Although it is known that unpredictable environments can profoundly affect the evolutionary process, it remains unclear how uncertainty about the nature of social interactions shapes the e...
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A key question in evolutionary biology is to explain the causes and consequences of the so-called “major transitions in evolution,” which resulted in the progressive evolution of cells, organisms, and animal societies (1–3). Several studies, for example, have now aimed to determine which suite of adaptive changes occurred following the evolution of...
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Cooperative behaviour can evolve through conditional strategies that direct cooperation towards interaction partners who have themselves been cooperative in the past. Such strategies are common in human cooperation, but they can be vulnerable to manipulation: individuals may try to exaggerate their past cooperation to elicit reciprocal contribution...
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Wasps (Vespidae) are important organisms to understand the evolution of social behaviour. Wasps show different levels of sociality, which includes solitary to highly eusocial organisms. In social insect species, queens and workers differ in physiology and morphology. The Neotropical swarm-founding wasps (Epiponini) show a variety of caste syndromes...
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Juvenile hormone (JH) is a key insect hormone involved in the regulation of physiological, developmental and behavioural processes. In social insects, it has been shown that JH can play a key role in modulating reproductive division of labour, age-related division of labour and chemical signalling, and can display marked changes in function of the...
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Background Host range is a fundamental trait to understand the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of symbionts. Increasing host specificity is expected to be accompanied with specialization in different symbiont traits. We tested this specificity-specialization association in a large group of 16 ant-associated silverfish species by linking their...
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The buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris presents two distinct colony phenotypes in which some colonies already start producing males very early in the season, while others switch to producing sexuals much later in the season, and specialize mainly in the production of virgin queens. Despite having been extensively investigated in the past, the...
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A long-term study on the production of sexual offspring in relation to food stores was conducted in the stingless bee Melipona beecheii. Firstly, the production of sexuals was followed during one year in 10 colonies kept under natural conditions. Of the brood produced, 22.9 % were males, and of all female brood, 14.6 % were queens. Secondly, we mea...
Preprint
Insect communities consist of several trophic levels that have to forage for suitable resources among and within larger patches of non-resources. To locate their resources, insects use diverse stimuli, including olfactory, visual, acoustic, tactile and gustatory cues. While most research has focused on cues derived from plants and other insects, th...
Article
Melipona stingless bees display a paradoxical overproduction of queens, which are later eliminated by nest-mate workers. Mechanistically, it was suggested that the monoterpenoid geraniol deposited into newly provisioned cells by adult bees would cause larvae to develop into queens in Melipona beecheii. This system could be evolutionarily stable if...
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Chemical cues are among the most important information-sharing mechanisms in insect societies, in which cuticular hydrocarbons play a central role, e.g., from nestmate recognition to queen signaling. The nestmate recognition mechanism usually prevents intruders from taking advantage of the resources stored in the nest. However, nestmate recognition...
Preprint
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Genomic imprinting is defined as parent-of-origin allele-specific expression. In order for genes to be expressed in this manner an `imprinting' mark must be present to distinguish the parental alleles within the genome. In mammals imprinted genes are primarily associated with DNA methylation. Genes exhibiting parent-of-origin expression have recent...
Preprint
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Background Host range is a fundamental trait to understand the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of symbionts. Increasing host specificity is expected to be accompanied with specialization in different symbiont traits. We tested this specificity-specialization association in a large group of 16 ant-associated silverfish species by linking their...
Article
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Sexual pheromones are chemical molecules responsible for mediating sex recognition and mating events. Long- and close-range sexual pheromones act differently. The first type is released to attract potential partners, whereas the second coordinates the interactions after potential mating partners encounter each other. Cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) h...
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In the highly eusocial wasp, Vespula vulgaris , queens produce honest signals to alert their subordinate workers of their fertility status, and therefore they are reproductively suppressed and help in the colony. The honesty of the queen signals is likely maintained due to hormonal regulation, which affects fertility and fertility cue expression. H...
Article
The complex system of communication used by social insects is responsible for their success on Earth. Cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) are considered the most commonly used form of communication among social insects. The best-known function of CHCs is to distinguish nestmates, providing cues to the whole colony to identify potential threats. In some s...
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The spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, is an invasive pest species from Southeast Asia that was recently introduced in Europe and North America. As this fruit fly lays its eggs in ripening soft-skinned fruit, it causes great damage to a variety of crops, including cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, plums and strawbe...
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Bacterial persistence is a potential cause of antibiotic therapy failure. Antibiotic-tolerant persisters originate from phenotypic differentiation within a susceptible population, occurring with a frequency that can be altered by mutations. Recent studies have proven that persistence is a highly evolvable trait and, consequently, an important evolu...
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In social insects, it has been suggested that reproduction and the production of particular fertility-linked cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC) may be under shared juvenile hormone control, and this could have been key in predisposing such cues to later evolve into full-fledged queen pheromone signals. However, to date, only few studies have experimental...
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UK variant transmission Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has the capacity to generate variants with major genomic changes. The UK variant B.1.1.7 (also known as VOC 202012/01) has many mutations that alter virus attachment and entry into human cells. Using a variety of statistical and dynamic modeling approaches, Davies...
Chapter
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Wasps are a true model in studies on the origin and evolution of cooperative behavior and the mechanisms that help to stabilize sociality and resolve internal conflicts. Indeed, the wide variety of social organizations found in the group-ranging from solitary to highly social-provides unique opportunities to test how cooperation evolved and how con...
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In social Hymenoptera, fertility and fertility signalling are often under identical hormonal control, and it has been suggested that such hormonal pleiotropies can help to maintain signal honesty. In the common wasp Vespula vulgaris, for example, fertile queens have much higher juvenile hormone (JH) titers than workers, and JH also controls the pro...
Article
When humans engage in social interactions, they are often uncertain about what the possible outcomes are. Because of this, highly sophisticated cooperation strategies may not be very effective. Indeed, some models instead predict the emergence of ‘social heuristics’: simple cooperation strategies that perform well across a range of different situat...
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Enmeshed in various social structures, humans must often weigh their own interest against the interest of others—including the common interest of groups they belong to. The Public Goods Game (PGG), which succinctly pits individual interest against group interest, has been a staple of research into how people make such decisions. It has been studied...
Article
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Genomic imprinting is the differential expression alleles in diploid individuals, with the expression being dependent on the sex of the parent from which it was inherited. Haig's kinship theory hypothesizes that genomic imprinting is due to an evolutionary conflict of interest between alleles from the mother and father. In social insects, it has be...
Article
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There is increasing evidence that microorganisms emit a wide range of volatile compounds (mVOCs, microbial volatile organic compounds) that act as insect semiochemicals, and therefore play an important role in insect behaviour. Although it is generally believed that phylogenetically closely related microbes tend to have similar phenotypic character...
Article
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In bumblebees, dominance behaviour contributes to the regulation of the reproductive division of labour between queens and workers. Towards the end of the colony cycle, at the onset of the competition phase, reproductive workers will establish a dominance hierarchy and challenge the reproductive monopoly of the queen by laying unfertilized, male-de...
Article
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The division of labour between reproductive queens and mostly sterile workers is among the defining characteristics of social insects. Queen-produced chemical signals advertising her presence and fertility status, i.e. queen pheromones, are normally used to assert the queen's reproductive dominance in the colony. Most queen pheromones identified to...
Chapter
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The societies of ants, bees, wasps, and termites are frequently viewed as one of the pinnacles of social evolution. Indeed, their eusocial organization implies that some individuals specialize in reproduction and others in altruistic helping. In many species, the level of coordination and division of labor within the worker caste reaches such extre...
Article
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Sphecophaga vesparum often parasitizes nests of vespid wasps such as Vespula vulgaris and Vespula germanica. Inside the colonies, the ectoparasitic larvae feed on the immature forms of the wasps. There are two adult forms of S. vesparum. The large, winged adults emerge from either rigid yellow cocoons or the orange cocoons used for overwintering. T...
Chapter
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Ants, bees, and wasp colonies display a remarkable reproductive division of labor, whereby one or several queens carry out most of the reproduction and the daughter workers normally specialize in nonreproductive tasks, such as foraging,defending the nest, and engaging in brood care. At the surface, this makes social insect colonies resemble perfect...
Article
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1.To locate mating partners and essential resources such as food, oviposition sites and shelter, insects rely to a large extent on chemical cues. While most research has focused on cues derived from plants and insects, there is mounting evidence that indicates that microorganisms emit volatile compounds that may play an important role in insect beh...
Preprint
Full-text available
Genomic imprinting is the differential expression of alleles in diploid individuals, with the expression being dependent upon the sex of the parent from which it was inherited. Haig’s kinship theory hypothesizes that genomic imprinting is due to an evolutionary conflict of interest between alleles from the mother and father. In social insects, it h...
Article
Full-text available
1. A diverse group of arthropods have adapted to the niches found inside the nests of social insects. Studies mostly focused on very specialised parasites residing in the brood chambers. However, the biology and strategies of symbionts occupying other niches, such as waste dumps, are underexplored. 2. Using a series of complementary experiments, t...
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1. A diverse group of arthropods have adapted to the niches found inside social insects nests. Studies mostly focused on very specialised parasites residing in the brood chambers. However, the biology and strategies of symbionts occupying other niches, such as waste dumps, are underexplored. 2. Using a series of complementary experiments, we demo...
Preprint
Full-text available
The evolutionary origin of queen pheromones, which regulate reproductive division of labor in insect societies, has been explained by two evolutionary scenarios: the sender-precursor hypothesis and the sensory exploitation hypothesis. These scenarios differ in terms of whether the signaling system was built on preadaptations on the part of either t...
Article
Full-text available
Invasive species cause severe ecological and economic impacts in their introduced ranges. Vespula wasps, native to Eurasia, are a major threat to New Zealand native ecosystems. Understanding factors that influence the success of wasp invasion is pivotal for the development of control strategies. Here, we compare genetic diversity and structure of V...
Article
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Despite the mitochondrion's long recognised role in energy production, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation commonly found in natural populations was assumed to be effectively neutral. However, variation in mtDNA has now been increasingly linked to phenotypic variation in life-history traits and fitness. We examined whether the relative fitness in n...
Article
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In several highly eusocial insect species with morphologically distinct castes, queen-characteristic cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) have been shown to act as queen signals that suppress the reproduction of nestmate workers. However, it is not known whether such queen pheromones might also play a role in regulating reproductive division of labor in p...
Article
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Non-toxic and environmentally friendly insecticidal powders have grown in popularity as pest control products to substitute traditional pesticide-based methods. The pharaoh ant is an ideal test species for insecticidal dusts and it is an indoor pest, mostly found in heated buildings where it can pose severe risks because of its ability to destroy e...
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1. Variation in microbial communities between populations is increasingly hypothesised to affect animal fitness and performance, including for invasive species. Pathogenic species may be lost during the introduction process, enhancing invader fitness and abundance. 2. This study assessed fitness, immune gene expression, and microbial network comple...
Article
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Animal gut microbiota affect host physiology and behaviour. In social insects, where colony level integrity is preserved via a nestmate discrimination system based on cuticular hydrocarbon mixtures, microorganismal effects may therefore influence social dynamics. Although nestmate recognition has undergone a thorough exploration during the last fou...
Article
Full-text available
Persisters are transiently antibiotic-tolerant cells that complicate the treatment of bacterial infections. Both theory and experiments have suggested that persisters facilitate genetic resistance by constituting an evolutionary reservoir of viable cells. Here, we provide evidence for a strong positive correlation between persistence and the likeli...
Article
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Indirect interactions occur when a species affects another species by altering the density (density-mediated interactions) or influencing traits (trait-mediated interactions) of a third species. We studied variation in these two types of indirect interactions in a network of red wood ants and symbiotic arthropods living in their nests. We tested wh...
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The lag phase is arguably one of the prime characteristics of microbial growth. Longer lag phases result in lower competitive fitness in variable environments, and the duration of the lag phase is also important in many industrial processes where long lag phases lead to sluggish, less efficient fermentations. Despite the immense importance of the l...
Article
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Many parasites display complex strategies to evade host detection. The principal view is that parasites of social insects deceive their host by means of advanced chemical adaptations such as mimicking the cuticular host recognition cues, being chemically odorless, or emitting manipulative volatiles. Apart from these chemical adaptations, parasites...
Article
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The pharaoh ant is a notorious and hard to eradicate pest, which poses a threat in hospitals, spreading pathogens and contaminating sterile equipment. When applied on ants, zeolites adsorb part of their epicuticular wax layer. The ants are then vulnerable to desiccation, since this layer regulates water exchange. We analyzed the chemical compositio...
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Ethnopharmacological relevance: Semen Torreyae, the seeds of Torreya grandis Fortune ex Lindley (Cephalotaxaceae) is a well-known traditional Chinese medicinal plant recorded in the Chinese Pharmacopeia (2010 version). It is widely used for treating intestinal parasites in China, owing to its desirable efficacy and safety. However, the anthelminti...
Preprint
Full-text available
Animal gut microbiota affect host physiology and behaviour. In eusocial Hymenoptera, where colony-level integrity is preserved via a nestmate discrimination system based on cuticular hydrocarbon mixtures, microorganismal effects may influence social dynamics. Although nestmate recognition has undergone a thorough exploration during the last four de...
Article
Full-text available
Cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) play a central role in the chemical communication of many insects. In Drosophila suzukii, an economically important pest insect, very little is known about chemical communication and the possible role of CHCs. In this study, we identified 60 CHCs of Drosophila suzukii and studied their changes in function of age (matur...
Article
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Background: Historically, inert insecticidal powders such as diatomaceous earth were researched for pest management applications, revealing that these types of powders killed insects by desiccation. However, data on the critical material properties that affect their efficacy is sparse. The present study investigates the insecticidal effect of powd...
Article
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Social insect colonies provide a valuable resource that attracts and offers shelter to a large community of arthropods. Previous research has suggested that many specialist parasites of social insects chemically mimic their host in order to evade aggression. In the present study, we carry out a systematic study to test how common such chemical dece...