Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 10, pp 1655–1663 | Cite as

Reproductive conflicts and egg discrimination in a socially polymorphic ant

Original Paper


The ability to discriminate against competitors shapes cooperation and conflicts in all forms of social life. In insect societies, workers may detect and destroy eggs laid by other workers or by foreign queens, which can contribute to regulate reproductive conflicts among workers and queens. Variation in colony kin structure affects the magnitude of these conflicts and the diversity of cues used for discrimination, but the impact of the number of queens per colony on the ability of workers to discriminate between eggs of diverse origin has so far not been investigated. Here, we examined whether workers from the socially polymorphic ant Formica selysi distinguished eggs laid by nestmate workers from eggs laid by nestmate queens, as well as eggs laid by foreign queens from eggs laid by nestmate queens. Workers from single- and multiple-queen colonies discriminated worker-laid from queen-laid eggs, and eliminated the former. This suggests that workers collectively police each other in order to limit the colony-level costs of worker reproduction and not because of relatedness differences towards queens’ and workers’ sons. Workers from single-queen colonies discriminated eggs laid by foreign queens of the same social structure from eggs laid by nestmate queens. In contrast, workers from multiple-queen colonies did not make this distinction, possibly because cues on workers or eggs are more diverse. Overall, these data indicate that the ability of F. selysi workers to discriminate eggs is sufficient to restrain worker reproduction but does not permit discrimination between matrilines in multiple-queen colonies.


Worker policing Nestmate recognition Social insect Ants Hymenoptera Formica selysi 



We thank Jessica Purcell, Michiel B. Dijkstra, Christophe Eizaguirre, Serge Aron, Lotta Sundström, and one anonymous referee for constructive comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This study was supported by grants 31003A-108263 and 31003A-125306 from the Swiss National Science Foundation. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. This research was done in compliance with current Swiss laws and regulations.


  1. Beekman M, Oldroyd BP (2005) Honeybee workers use cues other than egg viability for policing. Biol Lett 1:129–132CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Beekman M, Oldroyd BP (2008) When workers disunite: intraspecific parasitism by eusocial bees. Annu Rev Entomol 53:19–37CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourke AFG, Franks NR (1995) Social evolution in ants. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  4. Breed MD, Bennett B (1987) Kin recognition in highly eusocial insects. In: Fletcher DJC, Michener CD (eds) Kin recognition in animals. John Wiley, pp. 243-285Google Scholar
  5. Chapuisat M, Bocherens S, Rosset H (2004) Variable queen number in ant colonies: no impact on queen turnover, inbreeding, and population genetic differentiation in the ant Formica selysi. Evolution 58:1064–1072PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cole BJ (1986) The social-behavior of Leptothorax allardycei (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)—time budgets and the evolution of worker reproduction. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 18:165–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Crozier RH, Pamilo P (1996) Evolution of social insect colonies: sex allocation and kin selection. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Dijkstra MB, Boomsma JJ (2007) The economy of worker reproduction in Acromyrmex leafcutter ants. Anim Behav 74:519–529CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Endler A, Liebig J, Schmitt T, Parker JE, Jones GR, Schreier P, Holldobler B (2004) Surface hydrocarbons of queen eggs regulate worker reproduction in a social insect. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:2945–2950CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Foster KR, Ratnieks FLW (2001) Paternity, reproduction and conflict in vespine wasps: a model system for testing kin selection predictions. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foster KR, Gulliver J, Ratnieks FLW (2002) Worker policing in the European hornet Vespa crabro. Ins Soc 49:41–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frank SA (1995) Mutual policing and repression of competition in the evolution of cooperative groups. Nature 377:520–522CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gobin B, Heinze H, Stratz M, Roces F (2003) The energetic cost of reproductive conflicts in the ant Pachycondyla obscuricornis. J Ins Physio 49:747–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton WD (1964) The genetical evolution of social behaviour. J Theor Biol 7:1–52CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hammond RL, Keller L (2004) Conflict over male parentage in social insects. PLoS Biol 2:1472–1482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hardin G (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243–1248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hartmann A, Wantia J, Torres JA, Heinze J (2003) Worker policing without genetic conflicts in a clonal ant. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:12836–12840CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Helanterä H, Ratnieks FLW (2009) Two independent mechanisms of egg recognition in worker Formica fusca ants. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 63:573–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Helanterä H, Sundström L (2007a) Worker policing and nest mate recognition in the ant Formica fusca. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:1143–1149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Helanterä H, Sundström L (2007b) Worker reproduction in Formica ants. Am Nat 170:E14–E25CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1977) The number of queens: an important trait in ant evolution. Naturwiss 64:8–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holzer B, Kümmerli R, Keller L, Chapuisat M (2006) Sham nepotism as a result of intrinsic differences in brood viability in ants. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 273:2049–2052CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holzer B, Chapuisat M, Keller L (2008a) Foreign ant queens are accepted but produce fewer offspring. Oecologia 157:717–723CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Holzer B, Meunier J, Keller L, Chapuisat M (2008b) Stay of drift? Queen acceptance in the ant Formica paralugubris. Ins Soc 55:392–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Iwanishi S, Hasegawa E, Ohkawara K (2003) Worker oviposition and policing behaviour in the myrmicine ant Aphaenogaster smythiesi japonica Forel. Anim Behav 66:513–519CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Keller L (1997) Indiscriminate altruism: unduly nice parents and siblings. Trends Ecol Evol 12:99–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keller L, Chapuisat M (1999) Cooperation among selfish individuals in insect societies. Bioscience 49:899–909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kikuchi T, Tsuji K, Ohnishi H, Le Breton J (2007) Caste-biased acceptance of non-nestmates in a polygynous ponerine ant. Anim Behav 73:559–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kutter H (1977) Formicidae-Hymenoptera. Schweizerische Entomologische Gesellschaft, ZürichGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin SJ, Beekman M, Wossler TC, Ratnieks FLW (2002) Parasitic Cape honeybee workers, Apis mellifera capensis, evade policing. Nature 415:163–165PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Meunier J, Chapuisat M (2009) The determinants of queen size in a socially polymorphic ant. J Evol Biol 22:1906–1913CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Michod RE, Roze D (2001) Cooperation and conflict in the evolution of multicellularity. Heredity 86:1–7CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Pamilo P (1991) Evolution of colony characteristics in social insects. II. Number of reproductive individuals. Am Nat 138:412–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pirk CWW, Neumann P, Ratnieks FLW (2003) Cape honeybees, Apis mellifera capensis, police worker-laid eggs despite the absence of relatedness benefits. Behav Ecol 14:347–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ratnieks FLW (1988) Reproductive harmony via mutual policing by workers in eusocial hymenoptera. Am Nat 132:217–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ratnieks FLW, Boomsma JJ (1995) Facultative sex allocation by workers and the evolution of polyandry by queens in social Hymenoptera. Am Nat 145:969–993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ratnieks FLW, Visscher PK (1989) Worker policing in the honeybee. Nature 342:796–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ratnieks FLW, Foster KR, Wenseleers T (2006) Conflict resolution in insect societies. Ann Rev Ent 51:581–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Reber A, Castella G, Christe P, Chapuisat M (2008) Experimentally increased group diversity improves disease resistance in an ant species. Ecol Lett 11:682–689CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Reber A, Meunier J, Chapuisat M (2010) Flexible colony-founding strategies in a socially polymorphic ant. Anim Behav 78:467–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rosset H, Chapuisat M (2006) Sex allocation conflict in ants: when the queen rules. Curr Biol 16:328–331CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Rosset H, Chapuisat M (2007) Alternative life-histories in a socially polymorphic ant. Evol Ecol 21:577–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rosset H, Schwander T, Chapuisat M (2006) Nestmate recognition and levels of aggression are not altered by changes in genetic diversity in a socially polymorphic ant. Anim Behav 74:951–956CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schwander T, Rosset H, Chapuisat M (2005) Division of labour and worker size polymorphism in ant colonies: the impact of social and genetic factors. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59:215–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1995) Biometry. The principles and practice of statistics in biological research, 3rd edn. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  46. Sundström L (1997) Queen acceptance and nestmate recognition in monogyne and polygyne colonies of the ant Formica truncorum. Anim Behav 53:499–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Szathmary E, Maynard Smith J (1995) The major evolutionary transitions. Nature 374:227–231CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. van Zweden JS, Furst MA, Heinze J, D'Ettorre P (2007) Specialization in policing behaviour among workers in the ant Pachycondyla inversa. Proc R Soc L Ser B 274:1421–1428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vander Meer RK, Morel L (1998) Nestmate recognition in ants. In: Vander Meer RK, Breed M, Winston M, Espelie KE (eds) Pheromone communication in social insects. Westview, Boulder, pp 79–103Google Scholar
  50. Vander Meer RK, Breed M, Winston M, Espelie KE (1998) Pheromone communication in social insects: ants, wasps, bees, and termites. Westview Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  51. Vasquez GM, Silverman J (2008) Queen acceptance and the complexity of nestmate discrimination in the Argentine ant. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:537–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wenseleers T, Ratnieks FLW (2006) Comparative analysis of worker reproduction and policing in eusocial hymenoptera supports relatedness theory. Am Nat 168:E163–E179CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Wenseleers T, Helanterä H, Hart A, Ratnieks FLW (2004) Worker reproduction and policing in insect societies: an ESS analysis. J Evol Biol 17:1035–1047CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joël Meunier
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luma Delaplace
    • 1
  • Michel Chapuisat
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, Unil-SorgeUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Zoological Institute, Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations