Sex ratio determination by queens and workers in the ant Pheidole desertorum

Ken R. Helms, Jennifer Fewell, Steven W. Rissing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Because workers in colonies of eusocial Hymenoptera are more closely related to sisters than to brothers, theory predicts workers should bias investment in reproductive broods to favour reproductive females over males. However, conflict between queens and workers is predicted. Queens are equally related to daughters and sons, and should act to prevent workers from biasing investment. Previous study of the ant Pheidole desertorum showed that workers are nearly three times more closely related to reproductive females than males; however, the investment sex ratio is very near equal, consistent with substantial queen control of workers. Near-equal investment is produced by an equal frequency of colonies whose reproductive broods consist of only females (female specialists) and colonies whose reproductive broods consist of only males or whose sex ratios are extremely male biased (male specialists). Because natural selection should act on P. desertorum workers to bias investment in favour of reproductive females, why do workers in male-specialist colonies rear only (or mostly) males? We tested the hypothesis that queens prevent workers from rearing reproductive females by experimentally providing workers with immature reproductive broods of both sexes. Workers reared available reproductive females, while failing to rear available males. Worker preference for rearing reproductive females is consistent with queens preventing their occurrence in colonies of male specialists. These results provide evidence that queens and workers will act in opposition to determine the sex ratio, a fundamental prediction of queen-worker conflict theory. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-527
Number of pages5
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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