, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 37-42

The evolution of social parasitism in Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants: a test of Emery’s rule

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Emery’s rule predicts that social parasites and their hosts share common ancestry and are therefore likely to be close relatives. Within the leaf-cutting ant genus Acromyrmex, two taxa of social parasites have been found, which are thought to occupy opposite grades of permanent social parasitism, based on their contrasting morphologies: Acromyrmex insinuator differs little in morphology from its free-living congeneric host species and produces a worker caste, and is thus thought to represent an early grade of social parasitism. At the other extreme, Pseudoatta spp. exhibit a very specialised morphology and lack a worker caste, both of which are characteristics of an evolutionarily derived grade of social parasitism. Here we present a molecular phylogeny using partial sequences of cytochrome oxidase I and II of about half of the known Acromyrmex species including two social parasites, their hosts and all congeneric species occurring sympatrically. We show that the two inquiline parasites represent two separate origins of social parasitism in the genus Acromyrmex. The early-grade social parasite A. insinuator is highly likely to be the sister species of its host Acromyrmex echinator, but the derived social parasite Pseudoatta sp. is not the sister species of its extant host Acromyrmex rugosus.

Received 18 November 2002; revised 16 July 2003; accepted 24 July 2003.