Genetic diversity and genotypic differentiation between the sexes in swarm aggregations decrease inbreeding in the Formosan subterranean termite
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- Husseneder, C., Simms, D.M. & Ring, D.R. Insect. Soc. (2006) 53: 212. doi:10.1007/s00040-005-0860-7
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The life of a colony of subterranean termites, such as Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae), has natural inbreeding and outbreeding cycles. Reproductives of mature colonies can be replaced by their offspring, which increases the degree of inbreeding in each generation. High degrees of inbreeding may lead to inbreeding depression. In this study we focused on mechanisms for inbreeding avoidance during swarming that do not require kin recognition. We investigated genetic differentiation between swarm aggregations (isolation by distance), genetic diversity within swarm aggregations (multiple colony origin) and genetic differentiation between sexes. Alates were collected from five swarm aggregations in New Orleans, La. The genetic make-up of each swarm aggregation was then described by microsatellite genotyping. Alates from the different swarm aggregations were genetically differentiated; however, no isolation by distance up to at least 1000 m was detected. The dispersal distance of alates was sufficient to guarantee mixing of an average of 13 colonies within swarm aggregations. On average, eleven percent of all possible pairs of alates in each swarm aggregation were putative full siblings. Genotypic frequencies differed significantly between males and females. This could not be explained by sex-biased dispersal. We hypothesize sex-biased investment at the colony level to account for this difference. Genetic differentiation between the sexes and dispersal distances sufficient to promote high genetic diversity within swarm aggregations each facilitate inbreeding avoidance. These observations are consistent with the results of previous studies demonstrating that the majority of simple family colonies in Louisiana populations are headed by unrelated and outbred pairs of reproductives.