Facultative use of thelytokous parthenogenesis for queen production in the polyandrous antCataglyphis cursor

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The evolutionary paradox of sex remains one of the major debates in evolutionary biology. The study of species capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction can elucidate factors important in the evolution of sex. One such species is the ant Cataglyphis cursor, where the queen maximizes the transmission of her genes by producing new queens (gynes) asexually while simultaneously maintaining a genetically diverse workforce via the sexual production of workers. We show that the queen can also produce gynes sexually and may do so to offset the costs of asexual reproduction. We genotyped 235 gynes from 18 colonies and found that half were sexually produced. A few colonies contained both sexually and asexually produced gynes. Although workers in this species can also use thelytoky, we found no evidence of worker production of gynes based on genotypes of 471 workers from the six colonies producing sexual gynes. Gynes are thus mainly, and potentially exclusively, produced by the queen. Simulations of gynes inbreeding level following one to ten generations of automictic thelytoky suggest that the queen switches between or combines thelytoky and sex, which may reduce the costs of inbreeding. This is supported by the relatively small size of inbred gynes in one colony, although we found no relationship between the level of inbreeding and immune parameters. Such facultative use of sex and thelytoky by individual queens contrasts with other known forms of parthenogenesis in ants, which are typically characterized by distinct lineages specializing in one strategy or the other.

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