Polygyny reduces rather than increases nestmate discrimination cue diversity in Formica exsecta ants

  • Martin S
  • Helanterä H
  • Kiss K
 et al. 
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Although the majority of social insect colonies are headed by a single queen, some species possess nests that contain numerous reproductive queens (polygyny), a trait that is particularly widespread amongst the ants. Polygyny is often associated with a lack of conspecific inter-nest aggression between workers. This is hypothesised to result from increased nestmate cue diversity within nests, since polygynous nests are more genetically diverse than monogynous nests. Alternatively, it may reflect the common origin of polygynous nests that form polydomous networks. We exploit the recent discovery that the nestmate discrimination system in the ant Formica exsecta is based on cuticular hydrocarbons to investigate cue (Z9-alkenes) diversity in several monogynous and polygynous populations. Contrary to previous predictions, in all polygynous populations, the variation between nests in the Z9-alkene profiles was reduced relative to that found in monogynous populations. However, nest-specific Z9-alkene profiles with little variation amongst nestmate workers were still maintained irrespective of nest type or population. This suggests a very effective gestalt mechanism that homogenises the chemical discrimination cues, despite genetic diversity within colonies. Although the reduction in variation between nests was associated with reduced worker aggression on the population level, it cannot totally explain the weak aggression associated with polygynous populations.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aggression
  • Ants
  • Cuticular hydrocarbons
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Polygyny

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