Short-term Visitor

What shapes the global patterns of mating strategies in social insects?

PI(s): Else Fjerdingstad (Last Queens College CUNY, currently none)
Start Date: 18-Oct-2011
End Date: 17-Jan-2012
Keywords: adaptation, behavior, ecological niche modeling, sociality, ecology

Recent theory proposes that costs and benefits of polyandry in social insects depend on the ecological habitats. Polyandry should be favoured when colonies are faced with a greater diversity of tasks because genetically diverse colonies deal better with such. By contrast, a harsh environment may allow only exceptional colonies to survive, leading to directional (not diversifying) selection on worker forces. Additionally direct mortality (immune) costs of polyandry may be greater under harsher conditions that also select for earlier reproduction, thus reducing the fecundity benefits of obtaining more sperm via multiple mating. I found strong support for these ideas in Lasius niger ants: regions with warmer brood seasons and a greater diversity of core prey and mutualists showed a greater prevalence of polyandry. But do ecological factors shape the global patterns of polyandry vs. monandry in social insects in general? I will tackle this question through niche modelling and comparative analyses, making use of datasets on the mating strategies and breeding systems of ants, recent DNA phylogenies, as well as climatic and biotic data extracted from databases. My project fits a visiting professorship at NESCent particularly well due to the high concentration of social insect researchers in the region and their interests in biogeography and phylogenetics, which complement mine in evolutionary genetics and behavioural ecology.