Article

Abandoning aggression but maintaining self-nonself discrimination as a first stage in ant supercolony formation.

School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
Current Biology (Impact Factor: 9.49). 12/2007; 17(21):1903-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.09.061
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT An ant supercolony is a very large entity with very many queens. Although normal colonies of small extent and few queens remain distinct, a supercolony is integrated harmoniously over a large area [1, 2]. The lack of aggression is advantageous: Aggression is costly, involving direct and indirect losses and recognition errors [3, 4]. Indeed, supercolonial ants are among the ecologically most successful organisms [5-7]. But how supercolonies arise remains mysterious [1, 2, 8]. Suggestions include that reduced within-colony relatedness or reduced self-nonself discrimination would foster supercolony formation [1, 2, 5, 7, 9-12]. However, one risks confusing correlation and causality in deducing the evolution from distinct colonies to supercolonies when observing established supercolonies. It might help to follow up observations of another lack of aggression, that between single-queened colonies in some ant species. We show that the single-queened Lasius austriacus lacks aggression between colonies and occasionally integrates workers across colonies but maintains high within-colony relatedness and self-nonself discrimination. Provided that the ecological framework permits, reduced aggression might prove adaptive for any ant colony irrespective of within-colony relatedness. Abandoning aggression while maintaining discrimination might be a first stage in supercolony formation. This adds to the emphasis of ecology as central to the evolution of cooperation in general [13].

1 Bookmark
 · 
169 Views
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Biological invasions are recognized as a major cause of biodiversity decline and have considerable impact on the economy and human health. The African big-headed ant Pheidole megacephala is considered one of the world's most harmful invasive species. To better understand its ecological and demographic features, we combined behavioural (aggression tests), chemical (quantitative and qualitative analyses of cuticular lipids) and genetic (mitochondrial divergence and polymorphism of DNA microsatellite markers) data obtained for eight populations in Cameroon. Molecular data revealed two cryptic species of P. megacephala, one inhabiting urban areas and the other rainforests. Urban populations belong to the same phylogenetic group than those introduced in Australia and in other parts of the world. Behavioural analyses show that the eight populations sampled make up four mutually aggressive supercolonies. The maximum distance between nests from the same supercolony was 49 km and the closest distance between two nests belonging to two different supercolonies was 46 m. The genetic data and chemical analyses confirmed the behavioural tests as all of the nests were correctly assigned to their supercolony. Genetic diversity appears significantly greater in Africa than in introduced populations in Australia; by contrast, urban and Australian populations are characterized by a higher chemical diversity than rainforest ones. Overall, our study shows that populations of P. megacephala in Cameroon adopt a unicolonial social structure, like invasive populations in Australia. However, the size of the supercolonies appears several orders of magnitude smaller in Africa. This implies competition between African supercolonies and explains why they persist over evolutionary time scales.
    PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(2):e31480. · 3.73 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Ant protection of extrafloral nectar (EFN)-secreting plants is a common form of mutualism found in most habitats around the world. However, very few studies have considered these mutualisms from the ant, rather than the plant, perspective. In particular, a whole-colony perspective that takes into account the spatial structure and nest arrangement of the ant colonies that visit these plants has been lacking, obscuring when and how colony-level foraging decisions might affect tending rates on individual plants. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that recruitment of Crematogaster opuntiae (Buren) ant workers to the EFN-secreting cactus Ferocactus wislizeni (Englem) is not independent between plants up to 5 m apart. Colony territories of C. opuntiae are large, covering areas of up to 5,000 m(2), and workers visit between five and 34 EFN-secreting barrel cacti within the territories. These ants are highly polydomous, with up to 20 nest entrances dispersed throughout the territory and interconnected by trail networks. Our study demonstrates that worker recruitment is not independent within large polydomous ant colonies, highlighting the importance of considering colonies rather than individual workers as the relevant study unit within ant/plant protection mutualisms.
    Oecologia 03/2013; · 3.01 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Aim: Invasive species frequently exhibit high temporal and spatial variation in abundance. Although ecological aspects undoubtedly affect this variation, genetic factors may also play a part. The invasive unicolonial yellow crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes exhibits considerable variation in abundance throughout its extensive distribution in Australia's Northern Territory, where it was first detected in the 1980s. First, we aimed to determine whether A. gracilipes variation in abundance was associated with behavioural and genetic differentiation of the population and to determine whether one or more introductions occurred. Second, we investigated whether the A. gracilipes population was genetically and behaviourally heterogeneous to determine whether population divergence has occurred since introduction. Location: Tropical monsoonal savanna in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. Methods: Ant abundances were assessed at 13 sites throughout the study region. We used mitochondrial DNA sequences and microsatellite molecular markers to determine population genetic structure, which we correlated with abundance. Behavioural differentiation was assayed using aggression trials and analysed together with genetic data to investigate population divergence. Results: Although we found considerable variation in abundance, we found no association between population structure and differences in abundance. Our analyses suggest that A. gracilipes ants in Arnhem Land resulted from a single introduction. The population is not homogeneous, however, as aggression scores varied over both genetic and geographic distance. We also found a positive relationship between genetic and geographic distance. Main conclusions: The variation in abundance in the Arnhem Land population of A. gracilipes is clearly not owing to invasion by ants from different sources. The genetic and behavioural differentiation we observed is suggestive of incipient genetic and behavioural divergence, which may be expected over time when an invasive species enters in a new environment.
    Diversity and Distributions 01/2012; 18:323-333. · 6.12 Impact Factor

Full-text (2 Sources)

View
37 Downloads
Available from
May 22, 2014