Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 1701–1710 | Cite as

Extreme population differentiation in a vulnerable slavemaking ant with a fragmented distribution

  • O. SanllorenteEmail author
  • R. L. Hammond
  • F. Ruano
  • L. Keller
  • A. Tinaut
Research Article


Understanding levels of population differentiation and inbreeding are important issues in conservation biology, especially for social Hymenoptera with fragmented and small population sizes. Isolated populations are more vulnerable to genetic loss and extinction than those with extended continuous distributions. However, small populations are not always a consequence of a recent reduction of their habitat. Thus, determining the history of population isolation and current patterns of genetic variation of a species is crucial for its conservation. Rossomyrmex minuchae is a slave-making ant with patchy distribution in South Eastern Spain and is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. In contrast, the other three known species of the genus are presumed to show more uniform distributions. Here we investigate the genetic diversity and population structure of R. minuchae and compare it with that found in two other species of the genus: R. anatolicus and R. quandratinodum. We conclude that although genetic diversity of R. minuchae is low, there is no evidence of a recent bottleneck, suggesting a gradual and natural fragmentation process. We also show extreme population differentiation at nuclear and mitochondrial markers, and isolation by distance at a local scale. Despite some evidence for inbreeding and low genetic variation within populations, we found almost no diploid males, a finding which contrasts with that expected in inbred Hymenoptera with single locus complementary sex determination. This could mean that sex is determined by another mechanism. We argue that continued low population size means that detrimental effects of inbreeding and low genetic variation are likely in the future. We suggest that a policy of artificial gene flow aimed at increasing within population variation is considered as a management option.


Rossomyrmex minuchae Slave-making ant Vulnerable species Population differentiation Fragmented versus continuous distribution 



We thank the directorate of the National Park of Sierra Nevada for allowing us to sample there. A. Fernández, C. Karaman and Y. Kaz for helping us in nest search and excavations in Spain, Turkey and Kazakhstan, respectively. F. Mier and Y. Kaz kindly helped us with bureaucracy in Kazakhstan. J.G. Martínez offered technical help and J.D. Ibáñez-Álamo created the map. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for very useful comments. This research was supported by Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Organismo Autónomo Parques Nacionales, project ref: 78/2003, a FPU grant to O.S. (Ministerio de Educación), the Plan Propio of the University of Granada and the Swiss NSF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • O. Sanllorente
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. L. Hammond
    • 2
  • F. Ruano
    • 1
  • L. Keller
    • 3
  • A. Tinaut
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal BiologyUniversity of GranadaGranadaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of HullHullUK
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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