Behavioral regulation of genetic caste determination in a Pogonomyrmex population with dependent lineages

Rebecca M. Clark, Kirk E. Anderson, Juergen Gadau, Jennifer Fewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The fate of a social insect colony is partially determined by its ability to allocate individuals to the caste most appropriate for the requirements for growth, maintenance, and reproduction. In pairs of dependent lineages of Pogonomyrmex barbatus, the allocation of individuals to the queen or worker caste is constrained by genotype, a system known as genetic caste determination (GCD). In mature GCD colonies, interlineage female eggs develop into sterile workers, while intralineage eggs become reproductively capable queens. Although the population-level consequences of this system have been intensively studied, the proximate mechanisms for GCD remain unknown. To elucidate these mechanisms, we brought newly mated queens into the laboratory and allowed them to establish colonies, nearly half of which unexpectedly produced virgin queens only seven months after colony founding. We genotyped eggs, workers, and the virgin queens from these colonies. Our results showed that queens in young colonies produce both interlineage and intralineage eggs, demonstrating that queens of GCD colonies indiscriminately use sperm of at least two lineages to fertilize their eggs. Intralineage eggs were more frequent in colonies producing virgin queens. These findings suggest that intralineage eggs are predetermined to become queens and that workers may cull these eggs when colonies are not producing queens. Virgin queens produced by young GCD colonies were smaller than field-caught virgin queens, and often had developmental problems. Hence, they are probably nonfunctional and represent an intense resource drain for developing colonies, not a contribution to colony fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2201-2206
Number of pages6
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2006


  • Genetic caste determination
  • Pogonomyrmex barbatus
  • Reproduction
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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