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Keywords:

  • Cuticular hydrocarbon;
  • invasive species;
  • Linepithema humile;
  • nestmate recognition;
  • population genetics;
  • supercolony

Abstract

Ants are among the most damaging invasive species, and their success frequently arises from the widespread cooperation displayed by introduced populations, often across hundreds of kilometers. Previous studies of the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) have shown that introduced populations on different continents each contain a single, vast supercolony and, occasionally, smaller secondary colonies. Here, we perform inter-continental behavioral analyses among supercolonies in North America, Europe, Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia and show that these far-flung supercolonies also recognize and accept each other as if members of a single, globally distributed supercolony. Furthermore, populations also possess similar genetic and chemical profiles. However, these ants do show aggression toward ants from South Africa and the smaller secondary colonies that occur in Hawaii and California. Thus, the largest and most dominant introduced populations are likely descended from the same ancestral colony and, despite having been established more than 100 years ago, have diverged very little. This apparent evolutionary stasis is surprising because, in other species, some of the most rapid rates of evolutionary change have occurred in introduced populations. Given the spatial extent of the Argentine ant society we report here, there can be little doubt that this intercontinental supercolony represents the most populous known animal society.