A genetic component to size in queens of the ant, Formica truncorum

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Katja Bargum, Jacobus Jan Boomsma, L. Sundström

The genetic basis of morphological traits in social insects remains largely unexplored. This is even true for individual body size, a key life-history trait. In the social insects, the size of reproductive individuals affects dispersal decisions, so that small size in queens is often associated with reduced dispersal, and large size with long-range dispersal and independent colony founding. Worker size is connected to division of labour when workers specialize in certain tasks according to their size. In many species, variation in worker size has been shown to increase colony performance. In this study, we present the first evidence of an additive genetic component to queen size in ants, using maternal half sib analysis. We also compared intra-colony size variation in colonies with high (queen doubly mated) versus low (queen singly mated) genetic variability. We found a high and significant heritability (h2=0.51) for queen size in one of the two study years, but not in the other. Size variation among queens was greater in colonies headed by a doubly mated queen in one of the study years, but not in the other. This indicates that genetic factors can influence queen size, but that environmental factors may override these under some circumstances. The heritability for worker size was low (h2=0.09) and non-significant. Increased genetic diversity did not increase worker size variation in the colonies. Worker size appeared largely environmentally determined, potentially allowing colonies to adjust worker size ratios to current conditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)9-16
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Keywords Body size - Heritability - Social insects - Polyandry - Genetic variability

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