Dataset S1 from Age-based soldier polyethism: old termite soldiers take more risks than young soldiers

Who should take on risky tasks in an age-heterogeneous society? Life-history theory predicts that, in social insects, riskier tasks should be undertaken by sterile individuals with a shorter life expectancy. The loss of individuals with shorter life expectancy is less costly for colony reproductive success than the loss of individuals with longer life expectancy. Termite colonies have a sterile soldier caste, specialized defenders engaged in the most risky tasks. Here we show that termite soldiers exhibit age-dependent polyethism, as old soldiers are engaged in front-line defence more than young soldiers. Our nest defence experiment showed that old soldiers went to the front line and blocked the nest opening against approaching predatory ants more often than young soldiers. We also found that young soldiers were more biased toward choosing central nest defence as royal guards than old soldiers. These results demonstrate that termite soldiers have age-based task allocation, by which ageing predisposes soldiers to switch to more dangerous tasks. This age-dependent soldier task allocation increases the life expectancy of soldiers, allowing them to promote their lifetime contribution to colony reproductive success.