Population- and sociogenetic structure of the leaf-cutter ant Atta colombica (Formicidae, Myrmicinae)

M. Helmkampf, Juergen Gadau, H. Feldhaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Relatedness and genetic variability in colonies of social insects are strongly influenced by the number of queens present and the number of matings per queen, but also by the genetic variability in the population. Thus, multiple paternity will enhance within-colony genetic variability more strongly when the males a queen mates with are unrelated. To study the kin-structure within colonies of the leaf-cutter ant Atta colombica and the population structure of this species around Barro Colorado Island, Panama, we developed five polymorphic microsatellite loci with a range of three to 17 alleles in At. colombica, all of which cross-amplify in other higher attines as well. The average effective mating frequency calculated from four-locus microsatellite genotypes was 1.89 ± 0.12 (harmonic mean ± SE) and thus slightly lower than the average observed mating frequency of 2.50 ± 0.11 (arithmetic mean ± SE) over the 55 colonies studied, confirming former studies that utilized fewer loci. The discrepancy between observed mating frequency and effective mating frequency is most probably due to paternity skew within colonies. The study population proved to be genetically diverse and in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, suggesting random mating within the study area. No population substructure was observed, neither considering nuclear (global F ST = 0.011 ± 0.003 SE) nor mitochondrial markers (mean ΦST = 0.008). Consequently, gene flow is obviously promoted by both sexes across the range investigated here. Thus, multiple mating and long-distance dispersal appear to be two interconnected behavioural mechanisms to create and maintain genetic diversity in At. colombica. The advantages of this system are partly offset by paternity skew and the non-zero relatedness among colony fathers found in the study population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-442
Number of pages9
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Ants
  • Attini
  • Microsatellites
  • Multiple mating
  • Polyandry
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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