The termite Mastotermes darwiniensis is the sole extant member of its family and occupies the basal position in the phylogeny of the eusocial order Isoptera. In this study, we investigated the micro- and macrogeographic genetic structure of M. darwiniensis in its native range in Australia. A total of 1591 workers were sampled from 136 infested trees in 24 locales. Each locale was separated by 2–350 km, and these locales were found within two broader geographic regions approximately 1500 km apart. The multilocus genotypes of all termites were assayed at six polymorphic microsatellite loci. The genetic data indicated that colonies typically fed on multiple trees within locales and extended over linear distances of up to 320 m. Single colonies were frequently headed by multiple reproductives. Workers were highly related (r = 0.40) and substantially inbred (f = 0.10). Thus, M. darwiniensis colonies are characterized by the input of alleles from multiple reproductives, which sometimes engage in consanguineous matings. Our analyses of population genetic structure above the level of the colony indicated that locales and regions were significantly differentiated (θlocale = 0.50, θregion = 0.37). Moreover, locales showed a pattern of genetic isolation by distance within regions. Thus, M. darwiniensis populations display restricted gene flow over moderate geographic distances. We suggest that the genetic patterns displayed by M. darwiniensis result primarily from selective pressures acting to maintain high relatedness among colonymates while allowing colonies to grow rapidly and dominate local habitats.
Corresponding Editor: S. Edwards