Geographic variation of caste structure among ant populations.
Morphologically distinct worker castes of eusocial insects specialize in different tasks. The relative proportions of these castes and their body sizes represent the demography of a colony that is predicted to vary adaptively with environments. Despite strong theoretical foundations, there has been little empirical evidence for the evolution of colony demography in nature. We show that geographically distinct populations of the ant Pheidole morrisi differ in worker caste ratios and worker body sizes in a manner consistent with microevolutionary divergence. We further show that the developmental mechanism for caste determination accounts for the unique pattern of covariation observed in these two traits. Behavioral data reveal that the frequency of different tasks performed by workers changes in a caste-specific manner when caste ratios are altered and demonstrate the importance of the major caste in colony defense. The population-level variation documented here for P. morrisi colonies supports the predictions of adaptive demography theory and illustrates that developmental mechanisms can play a significant role in shaping the evolution of phenotype at the colony level.
Yang, AS; Martin, CH; Nijhout, HF
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