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Gene by Environment Interaction: Effects of a Single Gene and Social Environment on Reproductive Phenotypes of Fire Ant Queens

L. Keller and K. G. Ross
Functional Ecology
Vol. 9, No. 4 (Aug., 1995), pp. 667-676
DOI: 10.2307/2390159
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2390159
Page Count: 10
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Gene by Environment Interaction: Effects of a Single Gene and Social Environment on Reproductive Phenotypes of Fire Ant Queens
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Abstract

1. The gene Pgm-3 (or a closely linked gene) influences the phenotype and reproductive success of queens in multiple-queen (polygynous) colonies but not single-queen (monogynous) colonies of the Fire Ant Solenopsis invicta. 2. We investigated the mechanisms of differential phenotypic expression of Pgm-3 in these alternate social forms. Mature winged queens with the homozygous genotype Pgm-3a/a averaged 26% heavier than queens with the genotypes Pgm-3a/b and Pgm-3b/b in the polygynous form. Heterozygotes were slightly heavier (2%) than Pgm-3b/b queens in this form, demonstrating that the allele Pgm-3a is not completely recessive in its effects on weight. 3. There was no significant difference in weight among queens of the three Pgm-3 genotypes in the monogynous form, with the mean weight of monogynous queens slightly greater than that of polygynous Pgm-3a/a queens. Differences in weight between queens of the two social forms and among queens of the three genotypes in the polygynous form are not evident at the pupal stage and thus appear to develop during sexual maturation of the adults. This suggests that some component of the social environment of polygynous colonies inhibits weight gains during queen maturation and that Pgm-3a/a queens are relatively less sensitive to this factor. 4. To test whether the high cumulative queen pheromone level characteristic of polygynous colonies is the factor responsible for the differential queen maturation, we compared phenotypes of winged queens reared in split colonies in which pheromone levels were manipulated by adjusting queen number. Queens produced in colony fragments made monogynous were heavier than those produced in polygynous fragments, a finding consistent with the hypothesis that pheromone level affects the reproductive development of queens. However, genotype-specific differences in weights of queens were similar between the two treatments, suggesting that pheromone level was not the key factor of the social environment responsible for the gene-environment interaction. 5. To test whether limited food availability to winged queens associated with the high brood/worker ratios in polygynous colonies is the factor responsible for this interaction, similar split-colony experiments were performed. Elevated brood/worker ratios decreased the weight of winged queens but there was no evidence that this treatment intensified differential weight gains among queens with different Pgm-3 genotypes. Manipulation of the amount of food provided to colonies had no effect on queen weight. 6. The combined data indicate that cumulative pheromone level and brood/worker ratio are two of the factors responsible for the differences in reproductive phenotypes between monogynous and polygynous winged queens but that these factors are not directly responsible for inducing the phenotypic effects of Pgm-3 in polygynous colonies.

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