Introduced species often possess low levels of genetic diversity relative to source populations as a consequence of the small population sizes associated with founder events. Additionally, native and introduced populations of the same species can possess divergent genetic structuring at both large and small geographic scales. Thus, genetic systems that have evolved in the context of high diversity may function quite differently in genetically homogeneous introduced populations. Here we conduct a genetic analysis of native and introduced populations of the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) in which we show that the population-level changes that have occurred during introduction have produced marked changes in the social structure of this species. Native populations of the Argentine ant are characterized by a pattern of genetic isolation by distance, whereas this pattern is absent in introduced populations. These differences appear to arise both from the effects of recent range expansion in the introduced range as well as from differences in gene flow within each range. Relatedness within nests and colonies is lower in the introduced range than in the native range as a consequence of the widespread genetic similarity that typifies introduced populations. In contrast, nestmates and colony-mates in the native range are more closely related, and local genetic differentiation is evident. Our results shed light on the problem posed for kin selection theory by the low levels of relatedness that are characteristic of many unicolonial species and suggest that the loss of genetic variation may be a common mechanism for the transition to a unicolonial colony structure.
Corresponding Editor: D. Wheeler