The evolution of extreme polyandry in social insects: insights from army ants

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 21;9(8):e105621. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105621. eCollection 2014.

Abstract

The unique nomadic life-history pattern of army ants (army ant adaptive syndrome), including obligate colony fission and strongly male-biased sex-ratios, makes army ants prone to heavily reduced effective population sizes (Ne). Excessive multiple mating by queens (polyandry) has been suggested to compensate these negative effects by increasing genetic variance in colonies and populations. However, the combined effects and evolutionary consequences of polyandry and army ant life history on genetic colony and population structure have only been studied in a few selected species. Here we provide new genetic data on paternity frequencies, colony structure and paternity skew for the five Neotropical army ants Eciton mexicanum, E. vagans, Labidus coecus, L. praedator and Nomamyrmex esenbeckii; and compare those data among a total of nine army ant species (including literature data). The number of effective matings per queen ranged from about 6 up to 25 in our tested species, and we show that such extreme polyandry is in two ways highly adaptive. First, given the detected low intracolonial relatedness and population differentiation extreme polyandry may counteract inbreeding and low Ne. Second, as indicated by a negative correlation of paternity frequency and paternity skew, queens maximize intracolonial genotypic variance by increasingly equalizing paternity shares with higher numbers of sires. Thus, extreme polyandry is not only an integral part of the army ant syndrome, but generally adaptive in social insects by improving genetic variance, even at the high end spectrum of mating frequencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*

Grant support

This work was supported by the Graduate Scholarship of Saxony Anhalt (http://www.uni-halle.de/forschung/service/wissenschaftlicher_nachwuchs/gradfoerd_lsa/#anchor1071166), Mexican-European grant MUTUAL (FONCICYT 94293). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.