Social Factors In Heat Survival: Multi-Queen Desert Ant Colonies Have Higher and More Uniform Heat Tolerance

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Investigations of thermally adaptive behavioral phenotypes are critical for both understanding climate as a selective force and predicting global species distributions under climate change conditions. Cooperative nest founding is a common strategy in harsh environments for many species and can enhance growth and competitive advantage, but whether this social strategy has direct effects on thermal tolerance was previously unknown. We examined the effects of alternative social strategies on thermal tolerance in a facultatively polygynous (multiqueen) desert ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus, asking whether and how queen number affects worker thermal tolerances. We established and reared lab colonies with one to four queens, then quantified all colony member heat tolerances (maximum critical temperature [CTmax]). Workers from colonies with more queens had higher and less variant CTmax. Our findings resemble weak link patterns, in which colony group thermal performance is improved by reducing frequencies of the most temperature-vulnerable individuals. Using ambient temperatures from our collection site, we show that multiqueen colonies have thermal tolerance distributions that enable increased midday foraging in hot desert environments. Our results suggest advantages to polygyny under climate change scenarios and raise the question of whether improved thermal tolerance is a factor that has enabled the success of polygyne species in other climatically extreme environments.

Publication Title

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology





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