Workers influence royal reproduction

Richard J. Gill, Robert L. Hammond


Understanding which parties regulate reproduction is fundamental to understanding conflict resolution in animal societies. In social insects, workers can influence male production and sex ratio. Surprisingly, few studies have investigated worker influence over which queen(s) reproduce(s) in multiple queen (MQ) colonies (skew), despite skew determining worker-brood relatedness and so worker fitness. We provide evidence for worker influence over skew in a functionally monogynous population of the ant Leptothorax acervorum. Observations of MQ colonies leading up to egg laying showed worker aggressive and non-aggressive behaviour towards queens and predicted which queen monopolized reproduction. In contrast, among-queen interactions were rare and did not predict queen reproduction. Furthermore, parentage analysis showed workers favoured their mother when present, ensuring closely related fullsibs (average r = 0.5) were reared instead of less related offspring of other resident queens (r ≤ 0.375). Discrimination among queens using relatedness-based cues, however, seems unlikely as workers also biased their behaviour in colonies without a mother queen. In other polygynous populations of this species, workers are not aggressive towards queens and MQs reproduce, showing the outcome of social conflicts varies within species. In conclusion, this study supports non-reproductive parties having the power and information to influence skew within cooperative breeding groups.

  • Received August 18, 2010.
  • Accepted October 13, 2010.
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