Macro- and microgeographic genetic structure in an ant species with alternative reproductive tactics in sexuals

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Abstract

The genetic structure of social insect populations is influenced by their social organization and dispersal modes. The ant Hypoponera opacior shows diverse reproductive behaviours with regular cycles of outbreeding via winged sexuals and inbreeding via within-nest mating wingless sexuals that reproduce by budding. This unusual life cycle should be reflected in the genetic population structure, and we studied this on different scales using microsatellites. On a macrogeographic scale, populations were considerably structured and migration rates within the Chiricahuas were higher than those in between mountain ranges. On a local scale, our analyses revealed population viscosity through dependent colony foundation and a high genetic diversity with a multicolonial structure. The latter was also evident from recognition trials revealing consistent aggression between non-nestmates. Within-nest matings led to high inbreeding coefficients. Finally, the observed seasonal changes in relatedness can be explained by variation in queen number and differential dispersal of the two reproductive morphs.

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