There are several species of subterranean termites in the United States, some of which occur sympatrically over broad geographic regions. However, there is little information on the relative abundance of the different species or the extent to which they differ with respect to colony social and spatial organization. We used microsatellite markers to investigate the relative numbers of colonies, to infer colony breeding structures, and to delineate colony foraging areas in four species of subterranean termites occurring in a state park in Charleston, SC. The two most abundant species, Reticulitermes hageni Banks and Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), which together accounted for 80% of the 49 colonies sampled, had fairly localized foraging ranges of <30 m across. In contrast, Reticulitermes virginicus (Banks) and the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, had far fewer colonies, but these colonies were more expansive, spanning distances >100 linear m. Colonies of all species were primarily simple families each headed by a single monogamous pair of reproductives. Generally, the remaining colonies of each species were consistent with being extended families, i.e., headed by multiple neotenic reproductives descended from simple families. Only in R. flavipes was a mixed family colony detected, with workers from two distinct families occurring together. These results from molecular markers reveal how the various species in a relatively diverse subterranean termite community can vary in abundance, size of colony foraging area and breeding structure, thereby setting the stage for subsequent studies to identify the factors shaping these communities.
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Vol. 99 • No. 6