Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 323–333 | Cite as

Dominance orders, worker reproduction, and queen-worker conflict in the slave-making ant Harpagoxenus sublaevis

  • A. F. G. Bourke


In a queenright colony of the monogynous slave-making ant Harpagoxenus sublaevis, a subset of workers formed a linear dominance order in which dominance was corrlated with ovarian development, frequency of trophallaxis, length of time spent in the nest, but not body size. Identical dominance orders occurred in queenless colonies. Experiments in which the top-ranking workers were removed from queenless colonies demonstrated that worker dominance behaviour inhibits egg-laying in subordinates. A similar removal experiment showed queens restrict dominance behaviour and egg-laying in workers, probably pheromonally. Observations of slave raids indicated ovary-developed workers spent significantly less time scouting for slaves, and tended to participate less in slave raids, than workers without ovarian development. These findings suggest that potentially fertile H. sublaevis workers aggressively compete for egg-laying rights, consume extra food for egg development, and safeguard their reproductive futures by avoiding risks outside the nest. Hence worker reproduction in this species strongly influences the colony's social structure, nutrient flow, and division of labour, even though all workers in a colony are full sisters. I hypothesize that worker reproduction was formerly even more prevalent in H. sublaevis, with workers following the strategy of raising sisters and producing sons predicted by kinship theory. Its continued existence despite queen opposition conceivably results from selection on orphaned workers to reproduce, and the inability of slave-maker workers to raise female-biased broods. The social organization of H. sublaevis therefore highlights the importance both of worker reproduction and of the concomitant queen-worker conflict over male parentage in Hymenopteran social evolution.


Ovarian Development Nutrient Flow Dominance Order Work Reproduction Extra Food 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. F. G. Bourke
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of BathBathGreat Britain

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