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Genetic evidence for landscape effects on dispersal in the army ant Eciton burchellii

Authors

  • Thomas W. Soare,

    Corresponding author
    1. Animal Behavior Program, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
    • Correspondence: Thomas W. Soare, Fax: +1 206 685 3157; E-mail: twsoare@uw.edu

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  • Anjali Kumar,

    1. Animal Behavior Program, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
    2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
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  • Kerry A. Naish,

    1. School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
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  • Sean O'Donnell

    1. Animal Behavior Program, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
    2. Department of Biology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
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Abstract

Inhibited dispersal, leading to reduced gene flow, threatens populations with inbreeding depression and local extinction. Fragmentation may be especially detrimental to social insects because inhibited gene flow has important consequences for cooperation and competition within and among colonies. Army ants have winged males and permanently wingless queens; these traits imply male-biased dispersal. However, army ant colonies are obligately nomadic and have the potential to traverse landscapes. Eciton burchellii, the most regularly nomadic army ant, is a forest interior species: colony raiding activities are limited in the absence of forest cover. To examine whether nomadism and landscape (forest clearing and elevation) affect population genetic structure in a montane E. burchellii population, we reconstructed queen and male genotypes from 25 colonies at seven polymorphic microsatellite loci. Pairwise genetic distances among individuals were compared to pairwise geographical and resistance distances using regressions with permutations, partial Mantel tests and random forests analyses. Although there was no significant spatial genetic structure in queens or males in montane forest, dispersal may be male-biased. We found significant isolation by landscape resistance for queens based on land cover (forest clearing), but not on elevation. Summed colony emigrations over the lifetime of the queen may contribute to gene flow in this species and forest clearing impedes these movements and subsequent gene dispersal. Further forest cover removal may increasingly inhibit Eciton burchellii colony dispersal. We recommend maintaining habitat connectivity in tropical forests to promote population persistence for this keystone species.

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