The adaptive significance of inquiline parasite workers

  • Sumner S
  • Nash D
  • Boomsma J
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Social parasites exploit the socially managed resources of their host's society. Inquiline social parasites are dependent on their host throughout their life cycle, and so many of the traits inherited from their free-living ancestor are removed by natural selection. One trait that is commonly lost is the worker caste, the functions of which are adequately fulfilled by host workers. The few inquiline parasites that have retained a worker caste are thought to be at a transitional stage in the evolution of social parasitism, and their worker castes are considered vestigial and non-adaptive. However, this idea has not been tested. Furthermore, whether inquiline workers have an adaptive role outside the usual worker repertoire of foraging, brood care and colony maintenance has not been examined. In this paper, we present data that suggest that workers of the inquiline ant Acromyrmex insinuator play a vital role in ensuring the parasite's fitness. We show that the presence of these parasite workers has a positive effect on the production of parasite sexuals and a negative effect on the production of host sexuals. This suggests that inquiline workers play a vital role in suppressing host queen reproduction, thus promoting the rearing of parasite sexuals. To our knowledge, these are the first experiments on inquiline workers and the first to provide evidence that inquiline workers have an adaptive role.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Reproductive suppression
  • Social parasitism; Acromyrmex insinuator

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  • Sze Huei YekUniversity of Lausanne Department of Ecology and Evolution

  • Seirian Sumner

  • Jacobus J. Boomsma

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