Variation in queen number alters the genetic structure of social insect colonies, which in turn affects patterns of kin-selected conflict and cooperation. Theory suggests that shifts from single- to multiple-queen colonies are often associated with other changes in the breeding system, such as higher queen turnover, more local mating, and restricted dispersal. These changes may restrict gene flow between the two types of colonies and it has been suggested that this might ultimately lead to sympatric speciation. We performed a detailed microsatellite analysis of a large population of the ant Formica selysi, which revealed extensive variation in social structure, with 71 colonies headed by a single queen and 41 by multiple queens. This polymorphism in social structure appeared stable over time, since little change in the number of queens per colony was detected over a five-year period. Apart from queen number, single- and multiple-queen colonies had very similar breeding systems. Queen turnover was absent or very low in both types of colonies. Single- and multiple-queen colonies exhibited very small but significant levels of inbreeding, which indicates a slight deviation from random mating at a local scale and suggests that a small proportion of queens mate with related males. For both types of colonies, there was very little genetic structuring above the level of the nest, with no sign of isolation by distance. These similarities in the breeding systems were associated with a complete lack of genetic differentiation between single- and multiple-queen colonies, which provides no support for the hypothesis that change in queen number leads to restricted gene flow between social forms. Overall, this study suggests that the higher rates of queen turnover, local mating, and population structuring that are often associated with multiple-queen colonies do not appear when single- and multiple-queen colonies still coexist within the same population, but build up over time in populations consisting mostly of multiple-queen colonies.
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Vol. 58 • No. 5