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Evolution. 2006 Aug;60(8):1646-57.

Rare sexual reproduction events in the clonal reproduction system of introduced populations of the little fire ant.

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Centre de Biologie et de Gestion des Populations, Institut National de Recherche Agronomique, Campus International de Baillarguet, CS 30 016, 34988 Montferrier/Lez, France.


A unique reproductive system has previously been described in Wasmannia auropunctata, a widespread invasive ant species, where males are produced clonally, female queens are parthenogens, and female workers are produced sexually. However, these findings were mostly based on samples originating from only a limited part of the native range of the species in South America. We used microsatellite markers to uncover the reproductive modes displayed by a large number of nests collected in various invasive W. auropunctata populations introduced 40 years ago into New Caledonia, where the species now forms a single 450-km-long supercolony. Although the main reproduction system in New Caledonia remained clonality for both male and female reproductives, we found evidence of rare sexual reproduction events that led to the production of both new queen and male clonal lineages. All clonal lineages observed in New Caledonia potentially derived from sexual reproduction, recombination, and mutation events from a single female and a single male genotype. Hence, the male and female gene pools are not strictly separated in New Caledonia and the two sexes do not follow independent evolutionary trajectories. Our results also suggest genetic determination for both parthenogenesis and caste. We discuss the evolutionary implications of the emergence of sex in the clonal reproduction system of introduced populations of W. auropunctata.

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