High inter-colonial variation in worker nestmate relatedness and diverse social structure in a desert ant from Mongolia
The harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, is characterized by high levels of intracolonial genetic diversity resulting from multiple mating by the queen. Within reproductively mature colonies, the relative frequency of different male genotypes (patrilines) is not stable. The difference between samples increases with time, nearing an asymptote after a year. Patriline distributions in gynes and workers display similar patterns of change. A consequence of changing patriline distributions is that workers and gynes appear to have different fathers. However, apparent genetic differences between castes are caused by changing paternity among all females. Temporal variation in the relative frequency of patrilines may be a consequence of processes that reflect sexual conflict, such as sperm clumping. Recent work documenting genotype differences between physical castes (workers and gynes; major and minor workers) in several species of ants has been interpreted as evidence of genetic caste determination. Reanalysis of these studies found little support for this hypothesis. Apparent caste determination may result from temporal variation in sperm use, rather than from fertilization bias among male ejaculates.