The potential for worker reproduction in the ant Aphaenogaster cockerelli and its absence in the field

Abstract

A reproductive division of labor between subordinates and established reproductives is a hallmark of eusociality. In most groups, however, workers retain some reproductive capabilities. Across insect societies, measures of successful worker reproduction in the presence of a queen, with few exceptions, indicate that worker reproduction is kept at very low levels. There are, however, certain colony-level characteristics that may influence the degree to which worker reproduction is promoted, such as queen number, queen mating frequency, and physical presence of a queen in species with multiple nesting sites (polydomy). In this study, the level of worker reproduction in field colonies of the ant species Aphaenogaster cockerelli was measured. A. cockerelli is a monogynous and polydomous species, so worker reproduction across nesting sites was investigated. None of the 297 males sampled provided any evidence of worker reproduction. Worker reproduction would have been detectable if it was present at or above a level of 1.5 % of the total males per colony. An effective mating frequency for queens of this species was found to be 1.03. Although A. cockerelli colonies have many colony-level factors potentially promoting worker reproduction (workers with active, trophic egg-producing ovaries, a single singly-mated queen, workers who are physically separated from the queen), it is evident that worker reproduction is highly regulated. Synthesizing the extensive amount of policing and fertility signaling data previously reported on this species, A. cockerelli is presented as case study for how worker reproduction is repressed and cooperation is maintained in insect societies.

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Smith, A.A., Overson, R.P., Hölldobler, B. et al. The potential for worker reproduction in the ant Aphaenogaster cockerelli and its absence in the field. Insect. Soc. 59, 411–416 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-012-0235-9

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Keywords

  • Worker reproduction
  • Policing
  • Male parentage
  • Cuticular hydrocarbons
  • Polydomy