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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • genetic paradox;
  • invasive species;
  • social insects;
  • unicoloniality

Abstract

Many introduced species become invasive despite genetic bottlenecks that should, in theory, decrease the chances of invasion success. By contrast, population genetic bottlenecks have been hypothesized to increase the invasion success of unicolonial ants by increasing the genetic similarity between descendent populations, thus promoting co-operation. We investigated these alternate hypotheses in the unicolonial yellow crazy ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes, which has invaded Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory. We used momentary abundance as a surrogate measure of invasion success, and investigated the relationship between A. gracilipes genetic diversity and its abundance, and the effect of its abundance on species diversity and community structure. We also investigated whether selected habitat characteristics contributed to differences in A. gracilipes abundance, for which we found no evidence. Our results revealed a significant positive association between A. gracilipes genetic diversity and abundance. Invaded communities were less diverse and differed in structure from uninvaded communities, and these effects were stronger as A. gracilipes abundance increased. These results contradict the hypothesis that genetic bottlenecks may promote unicoloniality. However, our A. gracilipes study population has diverged since its introduction, which may have obscured evidence of the bottleneck that would likely have occurred on arrival. The relative importance of genetic diversity to invasion success may be context dependent, and the role of genetic diversity may be more obvious in the absence of highly favorable novel ecological conditions.