Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nepotism in ants: ant workers can regognize their kin

27.02.2003


Darwin in his time wondered about the existence of ants - how can natural selection as a process based on individual reproductive success give rise to sterile individuals such as ant workers? The solution comes from kin selection theory, which holds that an individual’s reproductive success can also be measured in the number of collateral kin produced. This is how the ants have solved the problem. In an ant colony with only one queen all the workers are her offspring and will in practice help to raise their siblings, which are genetically as valuable to them as own offspring.



However, colonies with multiple reproductively active queens occur commonly in ants. As a result workers will also be raising the more distantly related offspring, produced by queens other than their own mother. This dilutes the genetic returns from the help the workers provide. By selectively favouring offspring of the queen of closest kin, the workers can, however, partly mitigate this loss and more efficiently propagate their genes to the next generation. Because it is the workers who raise the brood they also have the opportunity to favour closer kin and disfavour (e.g. eliminate) more distant kin. Such nepotism har not been demonstrated before in ants.

Professor Liselotte Sundström and scientist Minttumaaria Hannonen from the University of Helsinki studied black ants and found out that kin does matter, and relatedness is a matter of discrimination. Their article is published in Nature, 27th of February, 2003.


In their study of the black ant (Formica fusca) the scientists show that worker ants are able to discriminate between closer and more distant kin, and also use this ability to raise offspring of higher genetic value. They constructed laboratory nests with two queens and took samples from a single offspring cohort both at the egg- and the adult stage. With the aid of genetic marker genes the scientists assessed both the reproductive shares each of the two queens obtained, and the relatedness between the workers and each of the two queens. If the workers are more closely related to one of the two queens, kin selection theory predicts that the reproductive share of this queen should increase during brood development. Conversely, if the workers are equally related to both queens no changes in brood composition are expected between the egg and the adult stage. The results show that this was the case - the closer the relatedness between the workers and one of the queens, the greater was the increase in her reproductive share during brood development.

The results thus show that worker ants can have very accurate kin discrimination abilities and that they also capitalize on this ability to pursue their selfish genetic interests. Nepotism has been difficult to demonstrate and has therefore remained a controversial issue. Most likely the tendency towards nepotism is a universal phenomenon, but the expression of this behaviour is likely to be modulated by costs due to recognition errors. When errors are made owing to informational constraints the costs will be paid by both the nepotistic individual and the entire colony. Under such circumstances natural selection will tend to eradicate nepotism from the population.

Minna Meriläinen | alfa
Further information:
http://www.helsinki.fi/english/news

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>