Outnumbered: a new dominant ant species with genetically diverse supercolonies in Ethiopia
A Lepisiota (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Formicinae) species in Ethiopia has been observed forming supercolonies spanning up to 38 km. L. canescens occurs at very high densities where there is sufficient moisture or herbaceous cover and dominates the local ant community, traits reminiscent of an invasive species. The supercolonies are genetically diverse, however, indicating they have not gone through the population bottleneck usually characteristic of species invasions. We conclude that the species is native to this region, though expanding its range locally into areas of human disturbance, where it is exploding in numbers. The lack of aggression across a genetically diverse population suggests that mitochondrial genetic variation is decoupled from variation relating to colony recognition cues like cuticular hydrocarbons. All in all, L. canescens could have the makings of an invasive species at an international scale and may represent a novel system to study the evolution and spread of supercolonies in ants.