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Extended family structure in the ant Formica paralugubris: the role of the breeding system
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
In populations of various ant species, many queens reproduce in the same nest (polygyny), and colony boundaries appear to be absent with individuals able to move fi eely between nests (unicoloniality). Such societies depart strongly from a simple family structure and pose a potential challenge to kin selection theory, because high queen number coupled with unrestricted gene flow among nests should result in levels of relatedness among nestmates close to zero. This study investigated the breeding system and genetic structure of a highly polygynous and largely unicolonial population of the wood ant Formica paralugubris. A microsatellite analysis revealed that nestmate workers, reproductive queens and reproductive males (the queens' mates) are all equally related to each other, with relatedness estimates centring around 0.14. This suggests that most of the queens and males reproducing in the study population had mated within or close to their natal nest, and that the queens did not disperse far after mating. We developed a theoretical model to investigate how the breeding system affects the relatedness structure of polygynous colonies. By combining the model and our empirical data, it was estimated that about 99.8% of the reproducing queens and males originated from within the nest, or from a nearby nest. This high rate of local mating and the rarity of long-distance dispersal maintain significant relatedness among nestmates, and contrast with the common view that unicoloniality is coupled with unrestricted gene flow among nests.
dispersal kin selection queen number formica paralugubris ants microsatellites solenopsis-invicta hymenoptera lugubris zett hymenoptera multiple-queen colonies 2 social forms arid-zone ant genetic-structure population viscosity iridomyrmex-humilis mitochondrial-DNA subdivided populations
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