A genetic component in the determination of worker polymorphism in the Florida harvester ant Pogonomyrmex badius
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The interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the determination of social insect castes has long intrigued biologists. Though an overwhelming majority of studies establish that factors such as nutrition, pheromones and temperature determine the developmental fate of worker larvae, genetic components have recently been shown to play a role in the determination of morphological worker castes in leaf-cutting ants. Here we demonstrate that the determination of worker castes in the strongly polyandrous Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius, has a genetic component. The overall distribution of caste members among patrilines in our study colonies is significantly different from the intracolonial caste ratio. Though this effect was not apparent in all colonies, our results suggest that workers of different patrilines in P. badius differ significantly in their propensities to develop into a certain worker caste. This genetic basis of worker polymorphism may go unnoticed in many social hymenopterans because of their low intracolonial genetic diversity due to monogamous colony structure. The worker polymorphism of P. badius is a taxonomic isolate and presumably a young trait in the genus. Therefore, a common genetic component of the determination of morphological and behavioral worker castes in social insects might be farranging taxonomically and may even be based on a genetic machinery inherent to all hymenopterans, but dormant in most.
Key words.Caste determination patriline polyandry multiple mating
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