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Genetic and behavioural evidence for a city-wide supercolony of the invasive Argentine ant Linepithema humile (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in southeastern Australia

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The success of invasive ants is frequently attributed to genetic and behavioural shifts in colony structure during or after introduction. The Argentine ant (Linepithema humile), a global invader, differs in colony genetic structure and behaviour between native populations in South America and introduced populations in Europe, Japan, New Zealand and North America. However, little is known about its colony structure in Australia. We investigated the genetic structure and behaviour of L. humile across Melbourne, Victoria by quantifying variation at four microsatellite loci and assaying intraspecific aggression at neighbourhood (30–200 m), fine (1–3.3 km) and regional (5–82 km) spatial scales. Hierarchical analyses across these scales revealed that most genetic variation occurred among workers within nests (∼98%). However, although low genetic differentiation occurred among workers between nests at the fine and regional scales (∼2%), negligible differentiation was detected among workers from neighbouring nests. Spatial genetic autocorrelation analysis confirmed that neighbouring nests were genetically more similar to each other. Lack of aggression within and across these scales supported the view that L. humile is unicolonial and forms a large supercolony across Melbourne. Comparisons of genetic structure of L. humile among single nests sampled from Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth with Melbourne showed no greater levels of genetic differentiation or dissimilar spatial structure, suggesting an Australia-wide supercolony.
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Keywords: biological invasions; intraspecific aggression; invasive ants; microsatellite markers; supercoloniality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre of Environmental and Stress Adaptation Research, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Vic. 3800, Australia. 2: Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Vic. 3800, Australia.

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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