Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 23–28 | Cite as

Polygyny in thief ants responds to competition and nest limitation but not food resources

Research Article


Colonies of ants often house multiple queens, and variation in polygyny often tracks environmental conditions. Three hypotheses have been proposed to describe how environmental variation may account for the degree of polygyny: competition, food limitation and nest limitation. Here I evaluate these hypotheses with studies on litter-nesting thief ants (Solenopsis spp.) throughout a lowland tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. In one component, I measured how polygyny varied across a broad environmental gradient demonstrating substantial variation in resources and competition. In a second component, I manipulated the abundance of food, the spatial presentation of food and the availability of nesting space to assess the effects on queen number. The degree of polygyny increased with nest limitation and competition, but there was no indication that colonies produce queens to capitalize on food availability. The increase in queen number in response to the density of competitors suggests that an increase in queen number enhances exploitative abilities.


Competition Colony size Food limitation Nest limitation Polygyny 



This project was supported by a Sally Casanova Memorial RSCAAP Award and NSF (EAR-0421178, OISE-0749047). Versions of this manuscript were improved with comments from Vickie Backus, Amelia Chapman, Deborah Clark, Rob Dunn, Mirjam Knörnschild and an anonymous reviewer. Support for the CARBONO Project plots was provided by the National Science Foundation (DEB-9629245), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Conservation International’s TEAM Initiative. I am grateful to the following for field or laboratory assistance: Fielding Arnold, Bobbi Bascomb, Erica Brady, Casandra Camacho, Alexandria Esparza, Ryan Fawcett, Candace Kelley, Jeb Owen, Lloyd Rowland, Josh Salinas, Mark Springer, Nikki Siddall, and Gretchen Wenner.


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyCalifornia State University Dominguez HillsCarsonUSA

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