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Control of body size of Lasius niger ant sexuals — worker interests, genes and environment


Else J. Fjerdingstad, Present address: Laboratoire d’Ecologie, CNRS UMR 7625, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 Quai Saint-Bernard, Bâtiment A, 7 ème étage, case 237, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France. Fax: +33 1 44 27 35 16; E-mail:


In most animals, the survival and reproductive success of males and females is linked to their size. The ability of individuals to control environmental influences on size will therefore have consequences for their fitness. In eusocial insects, individual males and reproductive females do not have to forage for themselves or control their local environment. Instead, they are reared by nonreproductive siblings (workers) inside colonies. Workers should benefit from controlling the size of sexuals because these sexuals are usually the only means for workers to transmit their genes to future generations. Nevertheless, considerable intraspecific variation exists around mean sexual size in social hymenopterans, even in species with monomorphic sexuals. This variation could result from genetic influences on sexual size, for instance sexuals may be selected to not agree to worker interests, or be due to strong, unpredictable environmental conditions constraining the efforts of workers to control sexual size. In a study that is the first of its kind I investigated genetic and environmental components of sexual body size variation in the ant Lasius niger, examining sexuals from wild colonies with one or several fathers (paternity levels established through microsatellite DNA offspring analysis). Evidence was found for a genetic component of size (broad-sense heritability of up to 42%) but strong common-colony effects (among-colony variation in food availability or in worker capacities to restrain sexual selfishness) also increased the size differences among colonies. Workers thus seem to only have partial-control over sexual size, but may be doing the best of a bad job.