A test of reproductive skew models in a field population of a multiple-queen ant

RL Hammond, MW Bruford, AFG Bourke

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Determining the evolutionary basis of variation in reproductive skew (degree of sharing of reproduction among coexisting individuals) is an important task both because skew varies widely across social taxa and because testing models of skew evolution permits tests of kin selection theory. Using parentage analyses based on microsatellite markers, we measured skew among female eggs (n=32.3 eggs per colony, range=20–68) in 17 polygynous colonies from a UK field population of the ant Leptothorax acervorum. We used skew among eggs as our principal measure of skew because of the high degree of queen turnover in the study population. Queens within colonies did not make significantly unequal contributions to queen and worker adult or pupal offspring, indicating that skew among female eggs reflected skew among daughter queens. On average, both skew among female eggs (measured by the B index) and queen–queen relatedness proved to be low (means±SE=0.06±0.02 and 0.28±0.08, respectively). However, contrary to current skew models, there was no significant association of skew with either relatedness or worker number (used as a measure of productivity). In L. acervorum, predictions of the concession model of skew may hold between but not within populations because queens are unable to assess their relatedness to other queens within colonies. Additional phenomena that may help maintain low skew in the study population include indiscriminate infanticide in the form of egg cannibalism and split sex ratios that penalize reproductive monopoly by single queens within polygynous colonies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-275
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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