Large scale unicoloniality: the population and colony structure of the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) in New Zealand
The Argentine ant is native to South America and has spread widely across the globe. In this study, we use genetic analyses and behavioural assays to examine the colony structure of Argentine ants in New Zealand. Diet modification studies were also carried out in order to help identify what factors influence these behavioural assays. There was no aggression observed between any pairings tested across the North Island of New Zealand, though we found that diet manipulations in the laboratory could lead to low levels of aggression between previously amiable Argentine ant nests. The New Zealand population of Argentine ants was characterized by low levels of genetic variation in six microsatellite loci from their nuclear genome. Additionally, the population also lacked significant genetic structuring with no patterns of regional differentiation or isolation by distance. An analysis of molecular variation(AMOVA) found that themajority of genetic variation was present at a nest level (93% of total genetic variance), with little genetic differentiation observed within or between regions (3 – 4% of total genetic variance). No correlation between aggression and genetic relatedness was observed. This evidence suggests that Argentine ants in New Zealand effectively form a unicolonial population, which is likely the result of colonization from a single source population. As far as we know, this is the first country to have an entirely unicolonial population of Argentine ants.