The influence of space and time on the evolution of altruistic defence: the case of ant slave rebellion

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How can antiparasite defence traits evolve even if they do not directly benefit their carriers? An example of such an indirect defence is rebellion of enslaved Temnothorax longispinosus ant workers against their social parasite Temnothorax americanus, a slavemaking ant. Ant slaves have been observed to kill their oppressors' offspring, a behaviour from which the sterile slaves cannot profit directly. Parasite brood killing could, however, reduce raiding pressure on related host colonies nearby. We analyse with extensive computer simulations for the Temnothorax slavemaker system under what conditions a hypothetical rebel allele could invade a host population, and in particular, how host–parasite dynamics and population structure influence the rebel allele's success. Exploring a wide range of model parameters, we only found a small number of parameter combinations for which kin selection or multilevel selection could allow a slave rebellion allele to spread in the host population. Furthermore, we did not detect any cases in which the reduction of raiding pressure in the close vicinity of the slavemaker nest would substantially contribute to the inclusive fitness of rebels. This suggests that slave rebellion is not costly and perhaps a side-effect of some other beneficial trait. In some of our simulations, however, even a costly rebellion allele could spread in the population. This was possible when host–parasite interactions led to a metapopulation dynamic with frequent local extinctions and recolonizations of demes by the offspring of few immigrants.

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