Genetics, behaviour and chemical recognition of the invading ant Pheidole megacephala


Denis Fournier, Fax: +32 (0)2 650 24 45; E-mail:


Introduced species often become ecologically dominant, displacing native species and posing a serious threat to ecosystem function and global biodiversity. Ants are among the most widespread and damaging alien species; introductions are often accompanied by population-level behavioural and genetic changes contributing to their success. We investigated the genetic structure, chemical profile and nestmate recognition in introduced populations of the invasive big-headed ant, Pheidole megacephala, in Australia. Behavioural analyses show that workers are not aggressive towards conspecifics from different nests, even at large geographical scales (up to 3000 km) and between populations encompassing a wide range of environmental conditions. By contrast, interactions with workers of other species invariably result in agonistic behaviours. Genetic analyses reveal that populations have low genetic diversity. No genetic differentiation occurs among nests of the same population; differentiation between populations, though significant, remains weak. Chemical analyses indicate that cuticular lipids are similar between colonies of a population, and that differentiation between populations is low. Altogether, these results indicate that the big-headed ant P. megacephala forms a large unicolonial population across northern/eastern Australia.