First Record of Polydomy in a Monogynous Ponerine Ant: A Means to Allow Emigration Between Pachycondyla goeldii Nests

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The ponerine ant Pachycondyla goeldii is a monogynous (i.e. one queen per colony) arboreal species that colonizes pioneer areas. Founding queens and first generation workers initiate their own ant garden by building a cardboard-like structure into which epiphyte seeds are integrated. Following the growth of the epiphyte, the colony establishes its nest within the root system. This particular nest-building behavior is crucial in an environment where suitable nest sites are rare. Nevertheless, the slow growing process of ant gardens does not allow this species to readily evacuate and find another refuge in the advent of an attack by a predator or worsening climatic conditions. Previous field studies of P. goeldii were performed after forest destruction and subsequent colonization by P. goeldii. As a result, the colonies studied where relatively young and monodomous (i.e. one nest per colony). Our study of nest composition, worker exchanges between ant gardens in the field, and dyadic encounters shows that mature colonies of P. goeldii are polydomous (i.e. multiple nests per colony). In ants, the association of polydomy with monogyny has infrequently been reported. To our knowledge, P. goeldii represents the first record of a Ponerinae exhibiting both these particular characteristics. Our field and laboratory experiments suggest that polydomy is adaptively advantageous in coping with the microclimatic instability of pioneer areas by providing colonies with easily accessible nests.

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