Genetic analysis reveals the putative native range and widespread double-clonal reproduction in the invasive longhorn crazy ant


Clonal reproduction can provide an advantage for invasive species to establish as it can circumvent inbreeding depression which often plagues introduced populations. The world's most widespread invasive ant, Paratrechina longicornis, was previously found to display a double-clonal reproduction system, whereby both males and queens are produced clonally, resulting in separate male and queen lineages, while workers are produced sexually. Under this unusual reproduction mode, inbreeding is avoided in workers as they carry hybrid interlineage genomes. Despite the ubiquitous distribution of P. longicornis, the significance of this reproductive system for the ant's remarkable success remains unclear, as its prevalence is still unknown. Further investigation into the controversial native origin of P. longicornis is also required to reconstruct the evolutionary histories of double-clonal lineages. Here, we examine genetic variation and characterize the reproduction mode of P. longicornis populations sampled worldwide using microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA sequences to infer the ant's putative native range and the distribution of the double-clonal reproductive system. Analyses of global genetic variations indicate that the Indian subcontinent is a genetic diversity hotspot of this species, suggesting that P. longicornis probably originates from this geographical area. Our analyses revealed that both the inferred native and introduced populations exhibit double-clonal reproduction, with queens and males around the globe belonging to two separate, nonrecombining clonal lineages. By contrast, workers are highly heterozygous because they are first-generation interlineage hybrids. Overall, these data indicate a worldwide prevalence of double clonality in P. longicornis and support the prediction that the unusual genetic system may have pre-adapted this ant for global colonization by maintaining heterozygosity in the worker force and alleviating genetic bottlenecks.

biological invasion, clonal reproduction, inbreeding, parthenogenesis, social insects