Sib mating without inbreeding in the longhorn crazy ant

Morgan Pearcy, Michael A. D. Goodisman, Laurent Keller


Sib matings increase homozygosity and, hence, the frequency of detrimental phenotypes caused by recessive deleterious alleles. However, many species have evolved adaptations that prevent the genetic costs associated with inbreeding. We discovered that the highly invasive longhorn crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis, has evolved an unusual mode of reproduction whereby sib mating does not result in inbreeding. A population genetic study of P. longicornis revealed dramatic differences in allele frequencies between queens, males and workers. Mother–offspring analyses demonstrated that these allele frequency differences resulted from the fact that the three castes were all produced through different means. Workers developed through normal sexual reproduction between queens and males. However, queens were produced clonally and, thus, were genetically identical to their mothers. In contrast, males never inherited maternal alleles and were genetically identical to their fathers. The outcome of this system is that genetic inbreeding is impossible because queen and male genomes remain completely separate. Moreover, the sexually produced worker offspring retain the same genotype, combining alleles from both the maternal and paternal lineage over generations. Thus, queens may mate with their brothers in the parental nest, yet their offspring are no more homozygous than if the queen mated with a male randomly chosen from the population. The complete segregation of the male and female gene pools allows the queens to circumvent the costs associated with inbreeding and therefore may act as an important pre-adaptation for the crazy ant's tremendous invasive success.

  • Received November 25, 2010.
  • Accepted January 11, 2011.
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