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Keywords:

  • colony dynamics;
  • inverse density dependence;
  • population dynamics;
  • social groups;
  • inverse density dependence

Summary

  1. Allee effects occur when the aggregation of individuals result in mutually beneficial intraspecific interactions whereby individual fitness, or per capita growth rate, increases with the number of individuals. Allee effects are common in social species due to their cooperative behaviours, such as breeding, feeding or defence. Allee effects have important implications for many aspects of basic and applied ecology. Over the past decades, the study of Allee effects has influenced population dynamics, community ecology, endangered species management and invasion biology.
  2. Despite the fact that cooperation is the basis of their social structure, Allee effects have received little attention among eusocial insects. Extreme cooperation is common, and reproductive specialization of individuals occurs due to division of labour. These life-history traits suggest that the potential contribution of each caste to reproduction and survival may be differential and nonadditive.
  3. We studied Allee effects in the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). In this species, many queens and workers are present in colonies, which allowed us to explore the differential effects of castes on the presence of Allee effects. In the laboratory, we measured brood production and individual survival in experimental colonies that differed in the initial numbers of queens and workers.
  4. Our results highlight the differential effect of queens and workers on survival and productivity. We found three positive density-dependent relationships indicative of component Allee effects at the colony level: both workers and queens had a positive effect on the productivity of the other caste, and queens had a positive effect on worker survivorship.
  5. Our experimental results suggest a potential positive feedback between worker and queen abundance, which may have contributed to the evolution of large colony sizes. Our study provides the first evidence of Allee effects in eusocial insects and highlights the need to consider castes separately in population dynamics. Division of labour and differential reproductive rates are factors that should be integrated into the study of Allee effects.