Habitat age, breeding system and kinship in the ant Formica fusca

Authors

  • Minttumaaria Hannonen,

    1. Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO.Box 65, FIN — 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
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  • Heikki Helanterä,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO.Box 65, FIN — 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
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  • Liselotte Sundström

    1. Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO.Box 65, FIN — 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
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Heikki Helanterä. Fax: + 358 (0) 9 191 57694; E-mail: heikki.helantera@helsinki.fi

Abstract

In polygyne ants (multiple queens per colony) factors that affect the distribution and survival of queens may play a key role in shaping the population-wide mating system and colony kin structure. The aim of this paper was to study the breeding system in two populations of different age in the facultatively polygyne ant Formica fusca. Both the observed numbers of queens, and the relatedness patterns among queens, workers and colony fathers were compared in two adjacent populations (ages 17 years and > 100 years) in Southern Finland. The results showed that both the mating system and colony kin structure differed between the study populations. In the old population the relatedness among workers, queens and colony fathers was high. The queens were also related to their mates, resulting in significant inbreeding in workers, but not in queens. Finally, the number of queens per colony fluctuated between years, suggesting queen turnover, and nest-mate queens shared their reproduction unequally (reproductive skew). In the younger population relatedness among queens and workers was lower than in the old population, and the colony fathers were unrelated. Furthermore, inbreeding was absent, and no conclusive evidence was found for reproductive skew among nest-mate queens. Finally, the number of queens per colony appeared more stable between years, although queen turnover occurred also in this population. The observed differences in dispersal and mating behaviour are discussed in the light of a potential connection between population age and habitat saturation.

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