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Keywords:

  • Ants;
  • Caribbean;
  • Central America;
  • climate change;
  • Formicidae;
  • parthenogenesis;
  • phylogeography;
  • Pleistocene;
  • sexual reproduction;
  • thelytoky

Abstract

Aim  We investigated the spatio-temporal patterns of genetic diversity in West Indian and mainland populations of a widespread parthenogenic ant (Platythyrea punctata F. Smith) to infer source populations and subsequent colonizations across its geographic range.

Location  Central America, Texas and the West Indies (Florida, the Bahamas, Greater and Lesser Antilles).

Methods  We employed phylogeographic reconstruction based on 1451 bp of mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome c oxidase subunits I and II) sequenced from 91 individuals of P. punctata. We employed standard population genetic analyses, Bayesian phylogenetic analyses, haplotype networks and molecular dating methods as performed by beast. We also employed phylogenetic analysis using two nuclear markers (970 bp) to understand the placement of P. punctata in the globally distributed genus Platythyrea.

Results  Based on highly reduced haplotypic variation and temporal estimates, rapid expansion and dispersal from Central America best explains the observed distribution of haplotypes. Platythyrea punctata successfully invaded the West Indies very few times. One haplotype occurred on every island surveyed from the Bahamas and Florida in the north to Barbados at the southern edge of its range. Haplotype diversity in the West Indies is quite low, despite a larger sample size relative to the mainland. Most mainland colonies collected each possessed a unique haplotype, whereas only Florida and the larger islands (the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe) contained more than one haplotype. Island haplotypes were most similar to haplotypes collected in northern Mexico and southern Texas, but genetic distances were nevertheless high. The putative sister species of P. punctata appears to be an endemic of Hispaniola (P. strenua Wheeler & Mann), even though older, mainland populations of P. punctata are sympatric with at least two other congenerics.

Main conclusions  Dispersal seems very limited on the mainland, with well-defined clades corresponding to geographical regions. Colonization of the islands from the mainland was extremely rare, but once successful there were very few barriers to expansion to nearly every island in the West Indies. We hypothesize that this invasion occurred during the late Pleistocene as the climate became warmer and less arid.