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Keywords:

  • aggression tests;
  • Anoplolepis gracilipes;
  • haplotype network;
  • invasive species;
  • microsatellites;
  • supercolony

Abstract

Invasive species are one of the main sources of the ongoing global loss of biodiversity. Invasive ants are known as particularly damaging invaders and their introductions are often accompanied by population-level behavioural and genetic changes that may contribute to their success. Anoplolepis gracilipes is an invasive ant that has just recently received increased attention due to its negative impact on native ecosystems. We examined the behaviour and population structure of A. gracilipes in Sabah, Malaysia. A total of 475 individuals from 24 colonies were genotyped with eight microsatellite markers. Intracolonial relatedness was high, ranging from 0.37 to 1 (mean ± SD: 0.82 ± 0.04), while intercolonial relatedness was low (0.0 ± 0.02, range −0.5–0.76). We compared five distinct sampling regions in Sabah and Brunei. A three-level hierarchical F-analysis revealed high genetic differentiation among colonies within the same region, but low genetic differentiation within colonies or across regions. Overall levels of heterozygosity were unusually high (mean HO = 0.95, mean HE = 0.71) with two loci being entirely heterozygous, indicating an unusual reproductive system in this species. Bioassays revealed a negative correlation between relatedness and aggression, suggesting kinship as one factor facilitating supercolony formation in this species. Furthermore, we genotyped one individual per nest from Sabah (22 nests), Sarawak (one nest), Brunei (three nests) and the Philippines (two nests) using two mitochondrial DNA markers. We found six haplotypes, two of which included 82.1% of all sequences. Our study shows that the sampled area in Sabah consists of a mosaic of differently interrelated nests in different stages of colony establishment. While some of the sampled colonies may belong to large supercolonies, others are more likely to represent recently introduced or dispersed propagules that are just beginning to expand.