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Social structure and winter survival in acorn ants


  • Joan M. Herbers,

  • Christine A. Johnson

J. M. Herbers ( and C. A. Johnson, Dept of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State Univ., Aronoff Laboratory, Columbus, OH 43210, USA. Present address for JMH: College of Biological Sciences, 484 W. 12th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Fluctuating selection is a major theme in the evolutionary and ecological literature, yet attempts to measure how differential selection across time or space affects long-term change in life history traits or behaviors are still rare. Social evolution among the insects has been broadly studied with respect to how key parameters such as queen number and relatedness vary to influence colony fitness. However, a primary focus on fertility selection in the warm months must be complemented by parallel investigations on survivorship selection during the cold months. Here we provide the first assessment of social structure and overwintering survivorship in the field. We studied the acorn ant, which stays aboveground throughout the cold winters in North America, by varying queen number and colony size over two consecutive winters. We found that winter survival was quite low but unconnected to variable colony structure. Therefore previous studies on how social structure affects fertility selection in acorn ants have not been confounded by countervailing selection during the cold months. Our data support the assumption of the larger literature that selective forces molding social behavior in ants act primarily on fertility selection during the reproductive season.