Two alternate mechanisms contribute to the persistence of interdependent lineages in Pogonomyrmex harvester ants


Tanja Schwander, Fax: +41 21 692 41 65; E-mail:


Some populations of Pogonomyrmex harvester ants comprise pairs of highly differentiated lineages with queens mating at random with several males of their own and of the alternate lineage. These queens produce two types of diploid offspring, those fertilized by males of the queens’ lineage which develop into new queens and those fertilized by males of the other lineage which mostly develop into functionally sterile workers. This unusual mode of genetic caste determination has been found in 26 populations and a total of four lineage pairs (F1-F2, G1-G2, H1-H2 and J1-J2) have been described in these populations. Despite the fact that a few interlineage queens are produced, previous studies revealed that there is a complete lack of genetic introgression between lineages. Here we quantify the proportion of interlineage queens produced in each of the four lineage pairs and determine the fate of these queens. In the F1-F2, G1-G2 and H1-H2 lineage pairs, interlineage queens were produced by a minority of colonies. These colonies exclusively produced interlineage queens and workers, suggesting that interlineage eggs can develop into queens in these three pairs of lineages in the absence of competition with pure-lineage brood. An analysis of three key stages of the colony life cycle revealed that colonies headed by interlineage queens failed to grow sufficiently to produce reproductive individuals. In laboratory comparisons, interlineage queens produced fewer viable eggs, with the effect that they raised fewer workers and lost more weight per worker produced than pure-lineage queens. In the J1-J2 lineage pair, we did not find a single interlineage queen, raising the possibility that interlineage eggs have completely lost the ability to develop into queens in this lineage pair. Hence, two distinct mechanisms seem to account for the complete lack of between-lineage gene flow in the F1-F2, G1-G2, H1-H2 and J1-J2 lineage pairs.