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Colony founding by the ant Myrmelachista flavocotea

Abstract

Identifying key life history characters is crucial to understanding the selective forces that influence species interactions and reciprocal evolution. We often know little about colony-founding behavior and colony structure of ants involved in obligate interactions with plants. Here, I describe colony-founding behavior of Myrmelachista flavocotea (Formicidae: Formicinae) on its obligate host plants Ocotea atirrensis and O. dendrodaphne (Lauraceae) in a lowland Caribbean rainforest at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. Ocotea seedlings produce specialized nodules on the main stem that are used as domatia by founding queens. In this study, Ocotea seedlings were colonized by multiple haplometrotically founding M. flavocotea queens. Mature colonies typically had only a single queen, apparently as a result of secondary monogyny. The number of foundress queens per tree was positively correlated with seedling height and stem diameter (nesting space) at time of colony founding. The extent to which foundress queens cooperate in colony founding is not known. Nonetheless, colony establishment by multiple foundress queens may be critical in ensuring the successful founding by at least one queen, thus allowing the perpetuation of the Myrmelachista-Ocotea interaction.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Robert K. Colwell, Jack Longino, Robin Chazdon, Sal Agosta, Dan Detzi, and two anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript. The following people were instrumental in data collection: Sarah Barlett, Stephanie Calora, Elena Dierick, Amanda Good, John Melien, Tiffany Phillips, and Bram Sercu. Funding for this project was provided by the Lawrence R. Penner Endowment to the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, the Ronald Bamford Endowment to the University of Connecticut Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Organization for Tropical Studies, the Explorers Club, a NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant, awarded to K. M. Kuhn, and NSF grants DEB 0639979 and DBI 0851245, awarded to R. K. Colwell.

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Correspondence to K. M. Kuhn.

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Kuhn, K.M. Colony founding by the ant Myrmelachista flavocotea . Insect. Soc. 61, 239–245 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-014-0348-4

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Keywords

  • Ant-plant interaction
  • Colony founding
  • Dependent founding
  • Haplometrosis
  • Secondary monogyny
  • Myrmelachista
  • Ocotea