Hybridogenesis through thelytokous parthenogenesis in two Cataglyphis desert ants


Correspondence: Pierre-André Eyer, Fax: + 32 2 650 24 45; E-mail: piereyer@ulb.ac.be


Hybridogenesis is a sexual reproductive system, whereby parents from different genetic origin hybridize. Both the maternal and paternal genomes are expressed in somatic tissues, but the paternal genome is systematically excluded from the germ line, which is therefore purely maternal. Recently, a unique case of hybridogenesis at a social level was reported in the desert ant Cataglyphis hispanica. All workers are sexually produced hybridogens, whereas sexual forms (new queens and males) are produced by queens through parthenogenesis. Thus, only maternal genes are perpetuated across generations. Here, we show that such an unusual reproductive strategy also evolved in two other species of Cataglyphis belonging to the same phylogenetic group, Cataglyphis velox and Cataglyphis mauritanica. In both species, queens mate exclusively with males originating from a different genetic lineage than their own to produce hybrid workers, while they use parthenogenesis to produce the male and female reproductive castes. In contrast to single-queen colonies of C. hispanica, colonies of C. velox and C. mauritanica are headed by several queens. Most queens within colonies share the same multilocus genotype and never transmit their mates' alleles to the reproductive castes. Social hybridogenesis in the desert ants has direct consequences on the genetic variability of populations and on caste determination. We also discuss the maintenance of this reproductive strategy within the genus Cataglyphis.