The interplay between genetic and environmental effects on colony insularity in the clonal invasive little fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata.
The little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, constitutes one clonal supercolony throughout Israel, providing an opportunity to examine the effects of genotype versus environment on nestmate recognition. Intraspecific encounters among field-collected or among laboratory-maintained colonies were nonaggressive, but encounters between freshly collected and laboratory-maintained colonies were highly aggressive. Analyses of cuticular hydrocarbons revealed that freshly field-collected colonies had distinguishable profiles. Moreover, freshly collected colonies had profiles disparate from those of the same colonies after 4 months in the laboratory. These results indicate a strong interplay between genetic-based and environmentally based effects on the recognition cues. We propose that in the field the ants' diet breadth is broad and consequently the incorporation of diet-borne substances is insufficient to mask the genetically determined cues. In the laboratory, however, the restricted diet promoted the incorporation of alien hydrocarbons at high levels, thus altering the genetically based cues to the point of alienation. These results shed a new light on the mechanisms by which environmental cues may affect label and/or template formation in ants.