Unicoloniality, recognition and genetic differentiation in a native Formica ant.
Some ants have an extraordinary form of social organization, called unicoloniality, whereby individuals mix freely among physically separated nests. This mode of social organization has been primarily studied in introduced and invasive ant species, so that the recognition ability and genetic structure of ants forming unicolonial populations in their native range remain poorly known. We investigated the pattern of aggression and the genetic structure of six unicolonial populations of the ant Formica paralugubris at four hierarchical levels: within nests, among nests within the same population, among nests of populations within the Alps or Jura Mountains and among nests of the two mountain ranges. Ants within populations showed no aggressive behaviour, but recognized nonnestmates as shown by longer antennation bouts. Overall, the level of aggression increased with geographic and genetic distance but was always considerably lower than between species. No distinct behavioural supercolony boundaries were found. Our study provides evidence that unicoloniality can be maintained in noninvasive ants despite significant genetic differentiation and the ability to discriminate between nestmates and nonnestmates.