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Trends Ecol Evol. 2009 Jun;24(6):341-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2009.01.013. Epub 2009 Mar 26.

Unicolonial ants: where do they come from, what are they and where are they going?

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  • 1Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, PO Box 65 (Viikinkaari 1), University of Helsinki, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland.


Unicolonial ant populations are the most extensive cooperative units known in nature, forming networks of interconnected nests extending sometimes hundreds of kilometers. Within such a supercolony, worker altruistic behavior might be maladaptive, because it seems to aid random members of the population instead of relatives. However, recent genetic and behavioral data show that, viewed on a sufficiently large scale, unicolonial ants do have colony boundaries that define very large kin groups. It seems likely that they are family groups that continue to express their kin-selected behavior as they grow to extreme sizes. However, at extreme sizes, kin selection theory predicts that these behaviors are maladapted and evolutionarily unstable, a prediction that is supported by their twiggy phylogenetic distribution.

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