One tree, many colonies: colony structure, breeding system and colonization events of host trees in tunnelling Melissotarsus ants - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Journal Articles Biological Journal of the Linnean Society Year : 2021

One tree, many colonies: colony structure, breeding system and colonization events of host trees in tunnelling Melissotarsus ants

Edward Vargo
Christian Peeters

Abstract

Abstract Ants exhibit a striking variety of lifestyles, including highly specialist or mutualist species. The minute blind workers of the African genus Melissotarsus chew tunnels in live trees to accommodate their obligate partner scale insects. Their modified legs are adapted for tunnelling, but are unsuited for walking outside, confining these ants to their initial host tree. Here, we investigated whether this unique lifestyle results in complex patterns of genetic diversity at different scales, from the same tree to different populations. Using 19 microsatellite markers, we assessed their mating strategy and colony structure among and across populations in South Africa. We showed that only one queen reproduces within a colony, mated with up to three males. However, several inseminated dealate queens are present in colonies; one probably replaces the older queen as the colony ages. The reproduction of a single queen per colony at a given time results in genetic differences between colonies, even those located on the same tree. We discuss how the slow process of colony digging under the bark and the lack of workers patrolling above the bark might result in reduced competition between colonies and allow several secluded colonies to cohabit the cramped space on a single tree.

Dates and versions

hal-03508793 , version 1 (03-01-2022)

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Pierre-André Eyer, Edward Vargo, Christian Peeters. One tree, many colonies: colony structure, breeding system and colonization events of host trees in tunnelling Melissotarsus ants. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021, 133 (1), pp.237-248. ⟨10.1093/biolinnean/blab026⟩. ⟨hal-03508793⟩
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