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Keywords:

  • ants;
  • intraspecific social parasitism;
  • life history;
  • nest site limitation;
  • reproductive allocation;
  • reproductive conflicts;
  • sex allocation;
  • split sex ratios

Abstract

We aimed at identifying the causal basis of previously shown interrelations between demographic and genetic colony structure, ecological factors and split sex ratios in the ant, Leptothorax nylanderi. Colony-level variation in sex allocation was only partly explained by annual fluctuations during eight study years and by resource availability as indicated by sexual production of colonies. Allocation ratios were highly male-biased in dense populations with ephemeral nest sites and high frequencies of colonies containing several unrelated matrilines. Field observations and experimental manipulations showed that nest site limitation leads to such heterogeneous colonies. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that genetic heterogeneity directly causes male-biased investment, although relatedness asymmetry is not influenced by invasion of unrelated queens. The influence of genetic composition on allocation strategies might either be explained by negative feedback mechanisms connected with habitat saturation or by a lower efficiency of heterogeneous colonies. Our results thus demonstrate which factors other than variation in relatedness asymmetry can explain split sex ratios in ants. An empirical test of a model on reproductive allocation revealed on-going queen–worker conflict over colony growth and sexual reproduction. Workers controlled reproductive allocation, but queen–worker conflict ceased in large colonies with a high survival rate.