Wolbachia are endosymbiotic bacteria that commonly infect arthropods. These bacteria induce a number of phenotypes in their hosts, including cytoplasmic incompatibility, thelytokous parthenogenesis, feminization, and male killing. We surveyed native South American populations of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta Buren for Wolbachia infections by using a diagnostic polymerase chain reaction assay. In addition, we determined the fidelity of vertical transmission of the bacteria from mother to offspring in this species by assaying daughters in 24 simple-family (monogyne) colonies. Infections were common in many parts of the extensive native range of S. invicta. However, the proportion of individuals infected varied greatly among samples, ranging from zero in several populations from the northerly parts of the range to >90% in more southerly populations. Possible explanations for this variation in the prevalence of Wolbachia infections are discussed. A survey of the two social forms of S. invicta from four geographic areas showed that the prevalence of Wolbachia infections consistently was higher in the monogyne form (single queen per colony) than the sympatric polygyne form (multiple queens per colony). One likely explanation for this trend is that the selective regimes acting on Wolbachia in the two forms differ because of the dissimilar reproductive strategies used by each form. Finally, overall transmission efficiency was found to be very high (>99%), making it unlikely that imperfect transmission prevents the spread of the microbe to near fixation in native populations.
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