Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 215–221 | Cite as

Division of labour and worker size polymorphism in ant colonies: the impact of social and genetic factors

Original Article


Division of labour among workers is central to the organisation and ecological success of insect societies. If there is a genetic component to worker size, morphology or task preference, an increase in colony genetic diversity arising from the presence of multiple breeders per colony might improve division of labour. We studied the genetic basis of worker size and task preference in Formica selysi, an ant species that shows natural variation in the number of mates per queen and the number of queens per colony. Worker size had a heritable component in colonies headed by a doubly mated queen (h2=0.26) and differed significantly among matrilines in multiple-queen colonies. However, higher levels of genetic diversity did not result in more polymorphic workers across single- or multiple-queen colonies. In addition, workers from multiple-queen colonies were consistently smaller and less polymorphic than workers from single-queen colonies. The relationship between task, body size and genetic lineage appeared to be complex. Foragers were significantly larger than brood-tenders, which may provide energetic or ergonomic advantages to the colony. Task specialisation was also often associated with genetic lineage. However, genetic lineage and body size were often correlated with task independently of each other, suggesting that the allocation of workers to tasks is modulated by multiple factors. Overall, these results indicate that an increase in colony genetic diversity does not increase worker size polymorphism but might improve colony homeostasis.


Size polymorphism Heritability Polyethism Social insects Formica selysi 



We thank C. Peter for help in the lab, S. Helms-Cahan for discussions and P. Christe, R. H. Crozier, S. Helms Cahan, L. Keller and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 31-61934.00 to MC)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tanja Schwander
    • 1
  • Hervé Rosset
    • 1
  • Michel Chapuisat
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biology BuildingUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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