Eur. J. Entomol. 109 (1): 95-102, 2012 | 10.14411/eje.2012.012

Multicoloniality in the highly polygynous ant Crematogaster pygmaea (Formicidae: Myrmicinae)

Rachid HAMIDI1, Gabriel DEBOUT2, Ana HEREDIA3, Denis FOURNIER4, Yves QUINET5, Jean-Christophe De BISEAU6
1,2,4,6 Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, CP 160 / 12, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Avenue F.D. Roosevelt 50, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium; e-mails: rachid.hamidi@ulb.ac.be, debout@cict.fr, denis.founier@ulb.ac.be, jcbiseau@ulb.ac.be
3,5 Laboratório de Entomologia, Instituto Superior de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Estadual do Ceará, 60740-000 Fortaleza, Brazil, e-mails: heredia.a@gmail.com, yvesq@terra.com.br

In social insects, the high variability in the number of queens per colony raises fundamental questions about the evolution of altruism. It is hypothesized, for instance, that nestmate recognition should be less efficient in polygynous than in monogynous colonies because the presence of several breeders increases the diversity of genetically determined recognition cues, leading to a less specific colonial signature. Recent studies, however, have shown that the link between the number of queens in a colony and the recognition abilities of its members is more complex than previously suggested. Here, we studied intraspecific aggression, diversity of potential recognition cues and genetic structure of colonies in the highly polygynous ant Crematogaster pygmaea. Our results reveal that workers of this species are clearly aggressive towards non-nestmates in field experiments but not in more artificial bioassays conducted in Petri dishes, underscoring the importance of context-dependent aspects of the assessment of nestmate recognition. Behavioural, genetic and chemical data show that C. pygmaea is a multicolonial species, forming spatially restricted and well-defined entities. Therefore, the postulated negative correlation between recognition ability of workers and queen number in a colony is not supported by the results of this study.

Keywords: Formicidae, Myrmicinae, multicoloniality, polygyny, polydomy, Crematogaster pygmaea, context-dependent nestmate discrimination

Received: November 25, 2010; Accepted: August 26, 2011; Published: January 3, 2012

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