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Keywords:

  • genetic caste determination;
  • Pogonomyrmex;
  • genetic lineage;
  • hybridization;
  • social insect

Abstract

Genetic caste determination has been described in two populations of Pogonomyrmex harvester ants, each comprising a pair of interbreeding lineages. Queens mate with males of their own and of the alternate lineage and produce two types of diploid offspring, those fertilized by males of the queens’ lineage which develop into queens and those fertilized by males of the other lineage which develop into workers. Each of the lineages has been shown to be itself of hybrid origin between the species Pogonomyrmex barbatus and Pogonomyrmex rugosus, which both have typical, environmentally determined caste differentiation. In a large scale genetic survey across 35 sites in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, we found that genetic caste determination associated with pairs of interbreeding lineages occurred frequently (in 26 out of the 35 sites). Overall, we identified eight lineages with genetic caste determination that always co-occurred in the same complementary lineage pairs. Three of the four lineage pairs appear to have a common origin while their relationship with the fourth remains unclear. The level of genetic differentiation among these eight lineages was significantly higher than the differentiation between P. rugosus and P. barbatus, which questions the appropriate taxonomic status of these genetic lineages. In addition to being genetically isolated from one another, all lineages with genetic caste determination were genetically distinct from P. rugosus and P. barbatus, even when colonies of interbreeding lineages co-occurred with colonies of either putative parent at the same site. Such nearly complete reproductive isolation between the lineages and the species with environmental caste determination might prevent the genetic caste determination system to be swept away by gene flow.