Sex ratios and the distribution of elaiosomes in colonies of the ant, Aphaenogaster rudis
- Cite this article as:
- Bono, J. & Heithaus, E. Insectes soc. (2002) 49: 320. doi:10.1007/PL00012655
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Genetic theory predicts that workers in monogynous ant colonies with singly-mated queens should capitalize on higher relatedness with sisters than with brothers by altering the sex investment ratio of a colony in favor of females. Sex investment ratios, however, may also be influenced by the amount of resources available to colonies, in part because more mating opportunities might be obtained by investing scarce resources in males, which are much smaller than queens. Female larvae that reach a critical size by a particular point in development become queens while underfed larvae develop into workers, so workers could potentially influence the sex investment ratio of a colony by selectively feeding female larvae. In a previous experiment on the ant, Aphaenogaster rudis, colonies increased female sex investment after their diet was supplemented with elaiosomes, a lipid-rich food gained from a seed dispersal mutualism. In order to investigate the mechanisms producing this shift, we radio-labeled Sanguinaria canadensis elaiosomes with fatty acids and compared uptake among castes within a colony. The experiment was performed in both the laboratory and field. Lab colonies produced female-biased sex investment ratios, while field colonies mainly invested in males. We hypothesize that this discrepancy is related to differing levels of background food availability in the lab and field. The results of the elaiosome distribution experiment do not support a hypothesis that elaiosomes play a qualitative role in queen determination, because all individuals in a colony receive this nutrient. There is, however, support for the hypothesis that elaiosomes have a quantitative effect on larval development because larvae that accumulated more radio-label from elaiosomes tended to develop into gynes (virgin queens), while other female larvae developed into workers.