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Asexual reproduction in introduced and native populations of the ant Cerapachys biroi

Authors

  • Daniel J. C. Kronauer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratory of Insect Social Evolution, The Rockefeller University, New York, USA
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
    • Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
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  • Naomi E. Pierce,

    1. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
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  • Laurent Keller

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
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Correspondence: Daniel J. C. Kronauer; E-mail: dkronauer@rockefeller.edu

Abstract

Asexual reproduction is particularly common among introduced species, probably because it helps to overcome the negative effects associated with low population densities during colonization. The ant Cerapachys biroi has been introduced to tropical and subtropical islands around the world since the beginning of the last century. In this species, workers can reproduce via thelytokous parthenogenesis. Here, we use genetic markers to reconstruct the history of anthropogenic introductions of C. biroi, and to address the prevalence of female parthenogenesis in introduced and native populations. We show that at least four genetically distinct lineages have been introduced from continental Asia and have led to the species' circumtropical establishment. Our analyses demonstrate that asexual reproduction dominates in the introduced range and is also common in the native range. Given that C. biroi is the only dorylomorph ant that has successfully become established outside of its native range, this unusual mode of reproduction probably facilitated the species' worldwide spread. On the other hand, the rare occurrence of haploid males and at least one clear case of sexual recombination in the introduced range show that C. biroi has not lost the potential for sex. Finally, we show that thelytoky in C. biroi probably has a genetic rather than an infectious origin, and that automixis with central fusion is the most likely underlying cytological mechanism. This is in accordance with what is known for other thelytokous eusocial Hymenoptera.

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