Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) in their native South American range, like most other ant species, form spatially restricted colonies that display high levels of aggression toward other such colonies. In their introduced range, Argentine ants are unicolonial and form massive supercolonies composed of numerous nests among which territorial boundaries are absent. Here we examine the role of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) in nestmate recognition of this highly damaging invasive ant using three supercolonies from its introduced range. We conducted behavioral assays to test the response of Argentine ants to workers treated with colonymate or non-colonymate CHCs. Additionally, we quantified the amount of hydrocarbons transferred to individual ants and performed gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to qualitatively characterize our manipulation of CHC profiles. The GC/MS data revealed marked differences in the hydrocarbon profiles across supercolonies and indicated that our treatment effectively masked the original chemical profile of the treated ants with the profile belonging to the foreign individuals. We found that individual workers treated with foreign CHCs were aggressively rejected by their colonymates and this behavior appears to be concentration-dependent: larger quantities of foreign CHCs triggered higher levels of aggression. Moreover, this response was not simply due to an increase in the amount of CHCs applied to the cuticle since treatment with high concentrations of nestmate CHCs did not trigger aggression.The results of this study bolster the findings of previous studies on social insects that have implicated CHCs as nestmate recognition cues and provide insight into the mechanisms of nestmate recognition in the invasive Argentine ant.
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