Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Hybrids of two destructive subterranean termites established in the field, revealing a potential for gene flow between species


Hybridization between invasive pest species may lead to significant genetic and economic impacts that require close monitoring. The two most invasive and destructive termite species worldwide, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki and Coptotermes gestroi (Wasmann), have the potential for hybridization in the field. A three-year field survey conducted during the dispersal flight season of Coptotermes in Taiwan identified alates with atypical morphology, which were confirmed as hybrids of the two Coptotermes species using microsatellite and mitochondrial analyses. Out of 27,601 alates collected over three years, 4.4% were confirmed as hybrid alates, and some advanced hybrids (>F1 generations) were identified. The hybrid alates had a dispersal flight season that overlapped with the two parental species 13 out of 15 times. Most of the hybrid alates were females, implying that mating opportunities beyond F1 may primarily be possible through female hybrids. However, the incipient colony growth results from all potential mating combinations suggest that only backcross colonies with hybrid males could sometimes lead to brood development. The observed asymmetrical viability and fertility of hybrid alates may critically reduce the probability of advanced-hybrid colonies being established in the field.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Distribution of the Coptotermes spp. in Taiwan according to NCHU Termite Collection between 2005 to 2020.
Fig. 2: Facial morphology of C. formosanus, C. gestroi and the putative hybrids.
Fig. 3: Species clustering and detection of advanced hybrids.
Fig. 4: Time series of dispersal flight events by fitting occurrences to Gaussian functions.
Fig. 5: Reproductive performance of the incipient colonies.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Supplementary figures, tables, and text can be downloaded from the online article version. Input files for population genetic analyses can be found on Dryad (


Download references


We thank Chun-I Chiu for giving advice on data analysis; Wen-Jun Lin, Ren-Hen Liu, Chia-Chien Wu, Mu-Xuan Chen, Hsiang-Chun Liu, and Yi-Ning Chiu (NCHU) for assisting the field works. We thank every citizen scientist who provided termite samples. This study was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (MOST 105-2628-B-005-003-MY3, MOST 108-2628-B-005-004, and MOST 109-2628-B-005-007). The authors acknowledge the Genomics Center for Clinical and Biotechnological Applications of National Core Facility for Biopharmaceuticals, Taiwan (NSTC 111-2740-B-A49-001) for sequencing.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



GYC, SYH, YHC and HFL designed the study. GYC and SYH collected the data. GYC, YHC, MDL and HFL interpreted the results. GYC analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. YHC, MDL, TC and HFL revised the manuscript. HFL acquired funding for the project. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yung-Hao Ching or Hou-Feng Li.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.


The research involved insects only and was exempt from ethical approval.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Associate editor: Lounès Chikhi.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chen, GY., Huang, SY., Lin, MD. et al. Hybrids of two destructive subterranean termites established in the field, revealing a potential for gene flow between species. Heredity 132, 257–266 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links