Colony genetic structure in the Australian jumper ant Myrmecia pilosula

Abstract

Eusocial insects vary significantly in colony queen number and mating frequency, resulting in a wide range of social structures. Detailed studies of colony genetic structure are essential to elucidate how various factors affect the relatedness and the sociogenetic organization of colonies. In this study, we investigated the colony structure of the Australian jumper ant Myrmecia pilosula using polymorphic microsatellite markers. Nestmate queens within polygynous colonies, and queens and their mates, were generally unrelated. The number of queens per colony ranged from 1 to 4. Queens were estimated to mate with 1–9 inferred and 1.0–11.4 effective mates. This is the first time that the rare co-occurrence of polygyny and high polyandry has been found in the M. pilosula species group. Significant maternity and paternity skews were detected at the population level. We also found an isolation-by-distance pattern, and together with the occurrence of polygynous polydomy, this suggests the occurrence of dependent colony foundation in M. pilosula; however, independent colony foundation may co-occur since queens of this species have fully developed wings and can fly. There is no support for the predicted negative association between polygyny and polyandry in ants.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by grants to RHC from the Australian Research Council (DP0665890, DP0450569) and by the Endeavour Postgraduate Award to Z-QQ from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Australia. EAS received scholarships from James Cook University and the Taxonomy Research and Information Network (TRIN), Australia. The authors thank Hai-Feng Zheng for map drawing, Ching Crozier for her assistance in the field survey and lab work, Robert W. Taylor for sample collection and identification, and two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Genotyping was performed by the Genetic Analysis Facility at James Cook University.

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Correspondence to Z.-Q. Qian.

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B.C. Schlick-Steiner, F.M. Steiner, S.K.A. Robson, H. Schlüns and E.A. Schlüns contributed equally to the paper.

Prof. R. H. Crozier deceased on 12 November 2009.

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Qian, ZQ., Schlick-Steiner, B.C., Steiner, F.M. et al. Colony genetic structure in the Australian jumper ant Myrmecia pilosula . Insect. Soc. 59, 109–117 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-011-0196-4

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Keywords

  • Genetic relatedness
  • Hymenoptera
  • Microsatellites
  • Myrmecia pilosula
  • Polyandry
  • Polygyny