Geographic patterns in colonial reproductive strategy in Myrmecina nipponica: Links between biogeography and a key polymorphism in ants

Adam L. Cronin, Noriko Azuma, Satoshi Miyazaki, Emiko Oguri, Michael P. Schwarz, Fuminori Ito

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3 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to express different phenotypes can help define species distributions by allowing access to, and exploitation of, new environments. Social insects employ two markedly different reproductive strategies with contrasting cost/benefit characteristics: independent colony foundation (ICF), which is associated with high dispersal range and high risk, and dependent colony foundation (DCF), characterized by low risk but low dispersal. The ant Myrmecina nipponica employs both of these strategies, with the frequency of each apparently varying between populations. We combine molecular data with data on reproductive strategy from different populations of this species throughout Japan to explore how this polymorphism is linked to environmental factors and whether this relationship can help explain the current and historical biogeography of this species. Reproductive strategy exhibited a strong geographic pattern, with ICF predominant in southern populations and DCF more common in northern and southern highland populations. Molecular analyses clearly divided populations into broad geographic regions, with the southern lowland populations basal to (southern highland (+ northern)) populations. Intra-population polymorphism in colony-founding strategy was widespread, and polymorphism was reconstructed as the likely ancestral state. The frequency of different strategies was linked with climate, with DCF more common in colder areas. A recent inferred origin to the northern lineage suggests that colonization of northern Japan was a rapid event coincident with warming at the end of the Last Glacial Maxima, likely facilitated by the cold-adaptive advantages of DCF. We discuss how such polymorphisms could help explain the biogeography of this and other social insects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1202
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • dependent colony foundation
  • environmental factors
  • Formicidae
  • polymorphism
  • social insect


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