The evolution of unicoloniality in ant societies : recognition, dispersal and population genetic structure


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
The evolution of unicoloniality in ant societies : recognition, dispersal and population genetic structure
Holzer B.
Chapuisat M.
Keller L.
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine
Faculté de biologie et de médecine Université de Lausanne UNIL - Bugnon Rue du Bugnon 21 - bureau 4111 CH-1015 Lausanne SUISSE
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REROID:R004737090 ill.
Societies of ants, bees, wasps and termites dominate many terrestrial ecosystems (Wilson 1971). Their evolutionary and ecological success is based upon the regulation of internal conflicts (e.g. Ratnieks et al. 2006), control of diseases (e.g. Schmid-Hempel 1998) and individual skills and collective intelligence in resource acquisition, nest building and defence (e.g. Camazine 2001). Individuals in social species can pass on their genes not only directly trough their own offspring, but also indirectly by favouring the reproduction of relatives. The inclusive fitness theory of Hamilton (1963; 1964) provides a powerful explanation for the evolution of reproductive altruism and cooperation in groups with related individuals. The same theory also led to the realization that insect societies are subject to internal conflicts over reproduction. Relatedness of less-than-one is not sufficient to eliminate all incentive for individual selfishness. This would indeed require a relatedness of one, as found among cells of an organism (Hardin 1968; Keller 1999). The challenge for evolutionary biology is to understand how groups can prevent or reduce the selfish exploitation of resources by group members, and how societies with low relatedness are maintained.
In social insects the evolutionary shift from single- to multiple queens colonies modified the relatedness structure, the dispersal, and the mode of colony founding (e.g. (Crozier & Pamilo 1996). In ants, the most common, and presumably ancestral mode of reproduction is the emission of winged males and females, which found a new colony independently after mating and dispersal flights (Hölldobler & Wilson 1990). The alternative reproductive tactic for ant queens in multiple-queen colonies (polygyne) is to seek to be re-accepted in their natal colonies, where they may remain as additional reproductives or subsequently disperse on foot with part of the colony (budding) (Bourke & Franks 1995; Crozier & Pamilo 1996; Hölldobler & Wilson 1990). Such ant colonies can contain up to several hundred reproductive queens with an even more numerous workforce (Cherix 1980; Cherix 1983).
As a consequence in polygynous ants the relatedness among nestmates is very low, and workers raise brood of queens to which they are only distantly related (Crozier & Pamilo 1996; Queller & Strassmann 1998). Therefore workers could increase their inclusive fitness by preferentially caring for their closest relatives and discriminate against less related or foreign individuals (Keller 1997; Queller & Strassmann 2002; Tarpy et al. 2004). However, the bulk of the evidence suggests that social insects do not behave nepotistically, probably because of the costs entailed by decreased colony efficiency or discrimination errors (Keller 1997). Recently, the consensus that nepotistic behaviour does not occur in insect colonies was challenged by a study in the ant Formica fusca (Hannonen & Sundström 2003b) showing that the reproductive share of queens more closely related to workers increases during brood development. However, this pattern can be explained either by nepotism with workers preferentially rearing the brood of more closely related queens or intrinsic differences in the viability of eggs laid by queens. In the first chapter, we designed an experiment to disentangle nepotism and differences in brood viability. We tested if workers prefer to rear their kin when given the choice between highly related and unrelated brood in the ant F. exsecta. We also looked for differences in egg viability among queens and simulated if such differences in egg viability may mistakenly lead to the conclusion that workers behave nepotistically.
The acceptance of queens in polygnous ants raises the question whether the varying degree of relatedness affects their share in reproduction. In such colonies workers should favour nestmate queens over foreign queens. Numerous studies have investigated reproductive skew and partitioning of reproduction among queens (Bourke et al. 1997; Fournier et al. 2004; Fournier & Keller 2001; Hammond et al. 2006; Hannonen & Sundström 2003a; Heinze et al. 2001; Kümmerli & Keller 2007; Langer et al. 2004; Pamilo & Seppä 1994; Ross 1988; Ross 1993; Rüppell et al. 2002), yet almost no information is available on whether differences among queens in their relatedness to other colony members affects their share in reproduction. Such data are necessary to compare the relative reproductive success of dispersing and non-dispersing individuals. Moreover, information on whether there is a difference in reproductive success between resident and dispersing queens is also important for our understanding of the genetic structure of ant colonies and the dynamics of within group conflicts. In chapter two, we created single-queen colonies and then introduced a foreign queens originating from another colony kept under similar conditions in order to estimate the rate of queen acceptance into foreign established colonies, and to quantify the reproductive share of resident and introduced queens.
An increasing number of studies have investigated the discrimination ability between ant workers (e.g. Holzer et al. 2006; Pedersen et al. 2006), but few have addressed the recognition and discrimination behaviour of workers towards reproductive individuals entering colonies (Bennett 1988; Brown et al. 2003; Evans 1996; Fortelius et al. 1993; Kikuchi et al. 2007; Rosengren & Pamilo 1986; Stuart et al. 1993; Sundström 1997; Vásquez & Silverman in press). These studies are important, because accepting new queens will generally have a large impact on colony kin structure and inclusive fitness of workers (Heinze & Keller 2000). In chapter three, we examined whether resident workers reject young foreign queens that enter into their nest. We introduced mated queens into their natal nest, a foreign-female producing nest, or a foreign male-producing nest and measured their survival. In addition, we also introduced young virgin and mated queens into their natal nest to examine whether the mating status of the queens influences their survival and acceptance by workers.
On top of polgyny, some ant species have evolved an extraordinary social organization called 'unicoloniality' (Hölldobler & Wilson 1977; Pedersen et al. 2006). In unicolonial ants, intercolony borders are absent and workers and queens mix among the physically separated nests, such that nests form one large supercolony. Super-colonies can become very large, so that direct cooperative interactions are impossible between individuals of distant nests.
Unicoloniality is an evolutionary paradox and a potential problem for kin selection theory because the mixing of queens and workers between nests leads to extremely low relatedness among nestmates (Bourke & Franks 1995; Crozier & Pamilo 1996; Keller 1995). A better understanding of the evolution and maintenance of unicoloniality requests detailed information on the discrimination behavior, dispersal, population structure, and the scale of competition. Cryptic genetic population structure may provide important information on the relevant scale to be considered when measuring relatedness and the role of kin selection. Theoretical studies have shown that relatedness should be measured at the level of the `economic neighborhood', which is the scale at which intraspecific competition generally takes place (Griffin & West 2002; Kelly 1994; Queller 1994; Taylor 1992).
In chapter four, we conducted alarge-scale study to determine whether the unicolonial ant Formica paralugubris forms populations that are organised in discrete supercolonies or whether there is a continuous gradation in the level of aggression that may correlate with genetic isolation by distance and/or spatial distance between nests. In chapter five, we investigated the fine-scale population structure in three populations of F. paralugubris. We have developed mitochondria) markers, which together with the nuclear markers allowed us to detect cryptic genetic clusters of nests, to obtain more precise information on the genetic differentiation within populations, and to separate male and female gene flow. These new data provide important information on the scale to be considered when measuring relatedness in native unicolonial populations.
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22/06/2010 14:14
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20/08/2019 15:46
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