UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Phylogenomics of palearctic Formica species suggests a single origin of temporary parasitism and gives insights to the evolutionary pathway toward slave-making behaviour Romiguier, Jonathan; Rolland, Jonathan; Morandin, Claire; Keller, Laurent


Background: The ants of the Formica genus are classical model species in evolutionary biology. In particular, Darwin used Formica as model species to better understand the evolution of slave-making, a parasitic behaviour where workers of another species are stolen to exploit their workforce. In his book “On the Origin of Species” (1859), Darwin first hypothesized that slave-making behaviour in Formica evolved in incremental steps from a free-living ancestor. Methods: The absence of a well-resolved phylogenetic tree of the genus prevent an assessment of whether relationships among Formica subgenera are compatible with this scenario. In this study, we resolve the relationships among the 4 palearctic Formica subgenera (Formica str. s., Coptoformica, Raptiformica and Serviformica) using a phylogenomic dataset of 945 genes for 16 species. Results: We provide a reference tree resolving the relationships among the main Formica subgenera with high bootstrap supports. Discussion: The branching order of our tree suggests that the free-living lifestyle is ancestral in the Formica genus and that parasitic colony founding could have evolved a single time, probably acting as a pre-adaptation to slave-making behaviour. Conclusion: This phylogenetic tree provides a solid backbone for future evolutionary studies in the Formica genus and slave-making behaviour.

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