Mating system evolution and worker caste diversity in Pheidole ants

Ming H. Huang, Diana E. Wheeler, Else J. Fjerdingstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The efficiency of social groups is generally optimized by a division of labour, achieved through behavioural or morphological diversity of members. In social insects, colonies may increase the morphological diversity of workers by recruiting standing genetic variance for size and shape via multiply mated queens (polyandry) or multiple-breeding queens (polygyny). However, greater worker diversity in multi-lineage species may also have evolved due to mutual worker policing if there is worker reproduction. Such policing reduces the pressure on workers to maintain reproductive morphologies, allowing the evolution of greater developmental plasticity and the maintenance of more genetic variance for worker size and shape in populations. Pheidole ants vary greatly in the diversity of worker castes. Also, their workers lack ovaries and are thus invariably sterile regardless of the queen mating frequency and numbers of queens per colony. This allowed us to perform an across-species study examining the genetic effects of recruiting more patrilines on the developmental diversity of workers in the absence of confounding effects from worker policing. Using highly variable microsatellite markers, we found that the effective mating frequency of the soldier-polymorphic P. rhea (avg. me N = 2.65) was significantly higher than that of the dimorphic P. spadonia (avg. meN = 1.06), despite a significant paternity skew in P. rhea (avg. B = 0.10). Our findings support the idea that mating strategies of queens may co-evolve with selection to increase the diversity of workers. We also detected patriline bias in the production of different worker sizes, which provides direct evidence for a genetic component to worker polymorphism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1998-2010
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • mating system
  • paternity
  • patriline bias
  • polyandry
  • social insects
  • worker size

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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