Strategies of the invasive tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) to minimize inbreeding costs.
How invasive species overcome challenges associated with low genetic diversity is unclear. Invasive ant populations with low genetic diversity sometimes produce sterile diploid males, which do not contribute to colony labour or reproductive output. We investigated how inbreeding affects colony founding and potential strategies to overcome its effects in the invasive tropical fire ant, Solenopsis geminata. Our genetic analyses of field samples revealed that 13-100% of males per colony (n=8 males per 10 colonies) were diploid, and that all newly mated queens (n=40) were single-mated. Our laboratory experiment in which we assigned newly mated queens to nests consisting of 1, 2, 3, or 5 queens (n=95±9 replicates) revealed that pleometrosis (queens founding their nest together) and diploid male larvae execution can compensate for diploid male load. The proportion of diploid male producing (DMP) colonies was 22.4%, and DMP colonies produced fewer pupae and adult workers than non-DMP colonies. Pleometrosis significantly increased colony size. Queens executed their diploid male larvae in 43.5% of the DMP colonies, and we hypothesize that cannibalism benefits incipient colonies because queens can redirect nutrients to worker brood. Pleometrosis and cannibalism of diploid male larvae represent strategies through which invasive ants can successfully establish despite high inbreeding.