, Volume 64, Issue 10, pp 1655-1663

Reproductive conflicts and egg discrimination in a socially polymorphic ant

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The ability to discriminate against competitors shapes cooperation and conflicts in all forms of social life. In insect societies, workers may detect and destroy eggs laid by other workers or by foreign queens, which can contribute to regulate reproductive conflicts among workers and queens. Variation in colony kin structure affects the magnitude of these conflicts and the diversity of cues used for discrimination, but the impact of the number of queens per colony on the ability of workers to discriminate between eggs of diverse origin has so far not been investigated. Here, we examined whether workers from the socially polymorphic ant Formica selysi distinguished eggs laid by nestmate workers from eggs laid by nestmate queens, as well as eggs laid by foreign queens from eggs laid by nestmate queens. Workers from single- and multiple-queen colonies discriminated worker-laid from queen-laid eggs, and eliminated the former. This suggests that workers collectively police each other in order to limit the colony-level costs of worker reproduction and not because of relatedness differences towards queens’ and workers’ sons. Workers from single-queen colonies discriminated eggs laid by foreign queens of the same social structure from eggs laid by nestmate queens. In contrast, workers from multiple-queen colonies did not make this distinction, possibly because cues on workers or eggs are more diverse. Overall, these data indicate that the ability of F. selysi workers to discriminate eggs is sufficient to restrain worker reproduction but does not permit discrimination between matrilines in multiple-queen colonies.

Communicated by L. Sundström