ID guide | introduced ants

Convergent development of ecological, genetic, and morphological traits in native supercolonies of the red ant Myrmica rubra

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2014
Authors:D. B. Huszár, Larsen, R. S., Carlsen, S., Boomsma, J. J., Pedersen, J. Søe
Journal:Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Date Published:Mar-08-2016
Keywords:DNA microsatellites, Inbreeding, Kin selection, Monogyny, Morphology, polygyny, Unicoloniality

Ant supercolonies (large networks of interconnected nests) represent the most extreme form of multi-queen breeding (polygyny) and have been found across ant lineages, usually in specific long-term stable populations. Many studies on the genetic population structure and demography of ant supercolonies have been done in recent decades, but they have lacked multicolonial control patches with separated colonies headed by a single or few queens so the origin of the supercolonial trait syndrome has remained enigmatic. Here, we set out to compare sympatric supercolonial and multicolonial patches in two natural Danish populations of the common red ant Myrmica rubra. We used DNA microsatellites to reconstruct genetic colony/population structure and obtained morphological and density measurements to estimate life history and ecology covariates. We found that supercolonies in both populations completely dominated their patches whereas colonies in multicolonial patches coexisted with other ant species. Supercolony patches had very low genetic differentiation between nests, negligible relatedness within nests, and lower inbreeding than multicolonial patches, but there were no significant morphological differences. One population also had nests that approached true outbred monogyny with larger workers and males but smaller queens than in the two other social nest types. Our results suggest that once smaller colonies start to adopt additional queens, they also gain the potential to ultimately become supercolonial when the habitat allows rapid expansion through nest budding. This is relevant for understanding obligate polygyny in ants and for appreciating how and why introduced North American populations of M. rubra have recently become invasive.

Short Title:Behav Ecol Sociobiol
Taxonomic name: 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith