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Keywords:

  • Argentine ant;
  • introduced species;
  • invasive ants;
  • microsatellites;
  • nestmate recognition;
  • unicoloniality

Abstract

Native to Argentina and Brazil, the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is an invasive species that has become established on six continents and many oceanic islands. In several parts of its introduced range, including the western United States, southern Europe and Chile, the Argentine ant is unicolonial, forming extensive supercolonies. We examined population genetic structure and intercolony aggression in two regions of the introduced range of this species in the United States: California and the southeastern United States. Our results show that the southeastern L. humile population has high genotypic variability and strong intercolony aggression relative to the California population. In the California population, intercolony aggression was absent and 23 alleles were found across seven polymorphic microsatellite loci. However, in the Southeast, aggression between colonies was high and 47 alleles were present across the same seven loci in an equal number of colonies. We suggest that distinctly different colonization patterns for California and the Southeast may be responsible for the striking disparity in the genetic diversity of introduced populations. Southeastern colonies may have descended from multiple, independent introductions from the native range, undergoing a bottleneck at each introduction. In contrast, the California supercolony may have originated from one or more colonies inhabiting the southeastern United States, thus experiencing a double bottleneck. The differences in present-day distribution patterns between California and the Southeast may be due to the combined effect of two factors: lower winter temperatures in the Southeast and/or competition with another successful and widely distributed ant invader, the fire ant Solenopsis invicta.