Semi-claustral colony founding in the seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus: a comparative analysis of colony founding strategies
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- Johnson, R.A. Oecologia (2002) 132: 60. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-0960-2
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The evolution of queens that rear their first brood solely using body reserves, i.e. fully claustral, is viewed as a major advance for higher ants because it eliminated the need for queens to leave the nest to forage. In an apparently unusual secondary modification, the seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus displays obligate queen foraging, i.e. queens must forage to garner the resources necessary to survive and successfully rear their first brood. I examined the potential benefits of queen foraging by comparing ecological and physiological traits between P. californicus and several congeners in which the queen can rear brood using only body reserves. The primary advantage of foraging appears to lie in providing the queens of P. californicus with the energy to raise significantly more brood than possible by congeners that use only body reserves; the workers reared in the first brood were also heavier in mass than that predicted by their head width. Other correlates of queen foraging in P. californicus relative to tested congeners included a significantly lower total fat content for alate queens, a small queen body size, and a low queen to worker body mass ratio. Queens also forage in several other well-studied species of Pogonomyrmex, suggesting the possibility that queen foraging may be more common than previously thought in higher ants.