Multiple mating is likely to be costly for ant queens and yet it is
common. Whether multiple mating brings benefits to queens that outweigh
the costs has, therefore, received considerable theoretical attention.
Empirical tests of hypotheses have been scarce and no clear evidence
has been reported. We tested the "multiple-mating-for-more-sperm"
hypothesis on individual young queens in a natural population of
the leafcutter ant Atta colombica, a monogynous ant characterised
by very large colonies and high colony longevity. We found that the
number of sperm stored by queens was positively correlated with the
number of mates per queen estimated through mother-offspring analysis
with microsatellite DNA markers. Queen sperm stores increased on
average by 30 million sperm for each additional mate. Life-history
information for Atta indicate that the number of stored sperm observed
is likely to constrain the reproductive lifespan of queens in nature.
Multiple mating, despite costs, may therefore enhance the fitness
of Atta queens because it enables them to store more sperm.
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