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Joint Evolution of Asexuality and Queen Number in an Ant

Kip D Lacy, DeWayne Shoemaker, Kenneth G Ross
Current Biology: CB 2019 April 22, 29 (8): 1394-1400.e4
Ants exhibit a striking diversity of reproductive systems, varying in traits such as the number of reproductives per colony [1], the mode of daughter production (sexual or asexual) [2], and the mode of caste determination (genetic or environmental) [3]. Species employing mixed reproductive systems present a unique opportunity to explore the causes and consequences of alternative breeding strategies. Mixed reproductive systems in ants include social polymorphism in colony queen number, whereby single-queen (monogyne) and multiple-queen (polygyne) colonies co-occur within species [4-7], and facultative asexuality, in which female offspring may be produced sexually or asexually within colonies [8-13]. Here, we document a remarkable confluence of multiple mixed reproductive systems in the tropical fire ant, Solenopsis geminata, in a population with three important features: (1) polygyne colonies produce workers sexually but queens asexually, whereas monogyne colonies produce both castes sexually; (2) polygyne queens mate with monogyne males to produce workers, but monogyne queens do not mate with polygyne males; and (3) different asexual/polygyne lineages evidently were founded separately by genetically distinct founder queens, which appear to have originated from the same neighboring monogyne population. Multiple asexual/polygyne genomes are transmitted undiluted in this system, but sterile workers produced with sperm from a sexually-reproducing/monogyne population are necessary for the persistence of these lineages. The intersection of social polymorphism, facultative asexuality, and genetic caste determination marks this population of S. geminata as an embodiment of the diversity of ant reproductive systems and suggests previously unknown connections between these phenomena.


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