Conflict resolution and evolution of social structures in insect societies

Abstract : In colonies of social Hymenoptera (which include all ants, as well as some wasp and bee species), only queens reproduce whereas workers generally perform other tasks. The evolution of worker’s reproductive altruism can be explained by kin selection, which states that workers can indirectly transmit copies of their genes by helping the reproduction of relatives. The relatedness between queens and workers may however be low, particularly when there are multiple queens per colony, which limits the transmission of copies of workers genes and increases potential conflicts between colony members. In this thesis, we investigated the link between social structure variations and conflicts, and explored the mechanisms involved in variation of colony queen number in ants. According to kin selection, workers should rear the brood they are most related to. In social Hymenoptera, males are haploid whereas females (workers and queens) are diploid. As a result, workers can be up to three times more related to females than males in some colonies, where they should consequently favour the production of females. In contrast, queens are equally related to daughters and sons in all types of colonies and therefore should favour a balanced sex ratio. In a meta-analysis across all studies of social Hymenoptera, we showed that colony sex ratio is generally largely influenced by workers. Hence, the evolution of social structures where queens and workers are equally related to males and females may contribute to decrease the conflict between the two castes over colony sex ratio. Another conflict between queens and workers can occur over male production. Many species contain workers that still have the ability to lay haploid eggs. In some social structures, workers are on average more related to sons of queens than to sons of other workers. As a result, workers should eliminate worker-laid eggs to favour queen-laid eggs. We showed that in the ant Formica selysi, workers eliminate more worker-laid than queen-laid eggs, independently of colony social structure. These results therefore suggest that worker policing can evolve independently from relatedness, potentially because of costs of worker reproduction at the colony-level. Colony queen number is a key parameter that influences relatedness between group members. Queen body size is generally linked to the success of independent colony foundation by single queens and may influence the number of queens in the new colony. In the ant F. selysi, single-queen colonies produce larger queens than multiple-queen colonies. We showed that this association results from genes or maternal effects transmitted to the eggs. However, we also found that queens produced in colonies of the two social forms did not differ in their general ability to found new colonies independently. Queen body size may also influence queen dispersal ability and constrain small queens to be re-adopted in their original nest after mating at proximity. We tested the acceptance of new queens in another ant species, Formica paralugubris, which has numerous queens per colony. Our results show that workers do not discriminate between nestmate and foreign queens, and more generally accept new queens at a limited rate. To conclude, this thesis shows that mechanisms influencing variation in colony queen number and the influence of these changes on conflict resolution are complex. Data gathered in this thesis therefore constitute a solid background for further research on the evolution and the maintenance of complex organisations in insect societies.
Keywords : Ants
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Joël Meunier. Conflict resolution and evolution of social structures in insect societies. Invertebrate Zoology. Université de Lausanne, quartier Unil Sorge, 1015 Lausanne, Suisse, 2009. English. ⟨tel-02142872⟩

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