Reproductive skew — the extent to which reproduction is unevenly shared between individuals in a social group — varies greatly between and within animal species. In this study, we investigated how queens share parentage in polygynous (multiple queen) colonies of the Mediterranean ant Pheidole pallidula. We used highly polymorphic microsatellites markers to determine parentage of gynes (new queens), males and workers in P. pallidula field colonies. The comparison of the genotypes of young and adult workers revealed a very low queen turnover (less than 2%). The first main finding of the study of reproductive skew in these colonies was that there was a significant departure from equal contribution of queens to gyne, male and worker production. Reproductive skew was greater for male production than for queen and worker production. There was no relationship between the magnitude of the reproductive skew and the number of reproductive queens per colony, their relatedness and the overall colony productivity, some of the factors predicted to influence the extent of reproductive skew. Finally, our study revealed for the first time a trade-off in the relative contribution of nestmate queens to gyne and worker production. The queens contributing more to gyne production contributed significantly less to worker production.
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