Population ecology - Original research


, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 849-857

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Does an ecological advantage produce the asymmetric lineage ratio in a harvester ant population?

  • Deborah M. GordonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Stanford University Email author 
  • , Anna PilkoAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Stanford University
  • , Nicolas De BortoliAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Namur
  • , Krista K. IngramAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Colgate University


In dependent-lineage harvester ant populations, two lineages interbreed but are genetically distinct. The offspring of a male and queen of the same lineage are female reproductives; the offspring of a male and queen of different lineages are workers. Geographic surveys have shown asymmetries in the ratio of the two lineages in many harvester ant populations, which may be maintained by an ecological advantage to one of the lineages. Using census data from a long-term study of a dependent-lineage population of the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, we identified the lineage of 130 colonies sampled in 1997–1999, ranging in age from 1 to 19 years when collected, and 268 colonies sampled in 2010, ranging in age from 1 to 28 years when collected. The ratio of lineages in the study population is similar across an 11-year interval, 0.59 J2 in 1999 and 0.66 J2 in 2010. The rare lineage, J1, had a slightly but significantly higher number of mates of the opposite lineage than the common lineage, J2, and, using data from previous work on reproductive output, higher male production. Mature colonies of the two lineages did not differ in nest mound size, foraging activity, or the propensity to relocate their nests. There were no strong differences in the relative recruitment or survivorship of the two lineages. Our results show no ecological advantage for either lineage, indicating that differences between the lineages in sex ratio allocation may be sufficient to maintain the current asymmetry of the lineage ratio in this population.


Skewed lineage ratio Pogonomyrmex Sex ratio