Wolbachia-infected ant colonies have increased reproductive investment and an accelerated life cycle [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Rohini Singh and Timothy A. Linksvayer

Wolbachia is a widespread group of maternally-transmitted endosymbiotic bacteria that often manipulates the reproductive strategy and life history of its hosts to favor its own transmission. Wolbachia mediated phenotypic effects are well characterized in solitary hosts, but effects in social hosts are unclear. The invasive pharaoh ant, Monomorium pharaonis, shows natural variation in Wolbachia infection between colonies and can be readily bred under laboratory conditions. We previously showed that Wolbachia-infected pharaoh ant colonies had more queen-biased sex ratios than uninfected colonies, which is expected to favor the spread of maternally-transmitted Wolbachia. Here, we further characterize the effects of Wolbachia on the short- and longer-term reproductive and life history traits of pharaoh ant colonies. First, we characterized the reproductive differences between naturally infected and uninfected colonies at three discrete time points and found that infected colonies had higher reproductive investment (i.e. infected colonies produced more new queens), particularly when existing colony queens were three months old. Next, we compared the long-term growth and reproduction dynamics of infected and uninfected colonies across their whole life cycle. Infected colonies had increased colony-level growth and early colony reproduction, resulting in a shorter colony life cycle, when compared to uninfected colonies.

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