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Keywords:

  • Biological invasions;
  • Linepithema humile;
  • social evolution;
  • social insects;
  • supercolonies;
  • unicoloniality

Some introduced ant populations have an extraordinary social organization, called unicoloniality, whereby individuals mix freely within large supercolonies. We investigated whether this mode of social organization also exists in native populations of the Argentine ant Linepithema humile. Behavioral analyses revealed the presence of 11 supercolonies (width 1 to 515 m) over a 3-km transect. As in the introduced range, there was always strong aggression between but never within supercolonies. The genetic data were in perfect agreement with the behavioral tests, all nests being assigned to identical supercolonies with the different methods. There was strong genetic differentiation between supercolonies but no genetic differentiation among nests within supercolonies. We never found more than a single mitochondrial haplotype per supercolony, further supporting the view that supercolonies are closed breeding units. Genetic and chemical distances between supercolonies were positively correlated, but there were no other significant associations between geographic, genetic, chemical, and behavioral distances. A comparison of supercolonies sampled in 1999 and 2005 revealed a very high turnover, with about one-third of the supercolonies being replaced yearly. This dynamic is likely to involve strong competition between supercolonies and thus act as a potent selective force maintaining unicoloniality over evolutionary time.