, 98:361 | Cite as

Workers select mates for queens: a possible mechanism of gene flow restriction between supercolonies of the invasive Argentine ant

  • Eiriki SunamuraEmail author
  • Sugihiko Hoshizaki
  • Hironori Sakamoto
  • Takeshi Fujii
  • Koji Nishisue
  • Shun Suzuki
  • Mamoru Terayama
  • Yukio Ishikawa
  • Sadahiro Tatsuki
Original Paper


Some invasive ants form large networks of mutually non-aggressive nests, i.e., supercolonies. The Argentine ant Linepithema humile forms much larger supercolonies in introduced ranges than in its native range. In both cases, it has been shown that little gene flow occurs between supercolonies of this species, though the mechanism of gene flow restriction is unknown. In this species, queens do not undertake nuptial flight, and males have to travel to foreign nests and cope with workers before gaining access to alien queens. In this study, we hypothesized that male Argentine ants receive interference from workers of alien supercolonies. To test this hypothesis, we conducted behavioral and chemical experiments using ants from two supercolonies in Japan. Workers attacked males from alien supercolonies but not those from their own supercolonies. The level of aggression against alien males was similar to that against alien workers. The frequency of severe aggression against alien males increased as the number of recipient workers increased. Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles, which serve as cues for nestmate recognition, of workers and males from the same supercolony were very similar. Workers are likely to distinguish alien males from males of their own supercolony using the profiles. It is predicted that males are subject to considerable aggression from workers when they intrude into the nests of alien supercolonies. This may be a mechanism underlying the restricted gene flow between supercolonies of Argentine ants. The Argentine ant may possess a distinctive reproductive system, where workers participate in selecting mates for their queens. We argue that the aggression of workers against alien males is a novel form of reproductive interference.


Aggression Biological invasions Gene flow Linepithema humile Reproductive interference Supercolony 



We thank Wataru Kojima, Peter Nonacs, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for young scientists to ES (20-6386) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Supplementary material

114_2011_778_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (32 kb)
Online resource 1 Cuticular hydrocarbons of workers and males from two supercolonies (“Japanese main” and “Kobe C”) of the Argentine ant. Fifty-four compounds were detected with GC/MS. Mean ± SD (%) of each compound is shown for workers and males. Compounds which highly contributed to the first and second principal components in the principal component analysis (Fig. 3) are indicated by plus sign and double plus sign, respectively. (PDF 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eiriki Sunamura
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sugihiko Hoshizaki
    • 1
  • Hironori Sakamoto
    • 2
  • Takeshi Fujii
    • 1
  • Koji Nishisue
    • 1
  • Shun Suzuki
    • 1
  • Mamoru Terayama
    • 1
  • Yukio Ishikawa
    • 1
  • Sadahiro Tatsuki
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Agricultural and Life SciencesUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of Environmental SciencesHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan

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