In many polygynous social insect societies, ecological factors such as habitat saturation promote high queen numbers by increasing the cost of solitary breeding. If polygyny is associated with constrained environments, queen number in colonies of invasive social insects should increase as saturation of their new habitat increases. Here I describe the variation in queen number, nestmate relatedness, and nest size along a gradient of time since colonization in an invading population of Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) in Haleakala, Hawaii. Nest densities in this population increase with distance from the leading edge of the invasion, reaching a stable density plateau approximately 80 m from the edge (> 2 years after colonization). Although the number of queens per nest in Haleakala is generally lower than previously reported for Argentine ants, there is significant variation in queen number across this population. Both the observed and effective queen numbers increase across the density gradient, and nests in the center of the population contain queen numbers three to nine times higher than those on the edge of the invasion. The number of workers per nest is correlated with queen number, and nests in the center are six times larger than nests at the edge. Microsatellite analysis of relatedness among nestmates reveals that all nests in the Haleakala population are characterized by low relatedness and have evidence of multiple reproducing queens. Relatedness values are significantly lower in nests in the center of the population, indicating that the number of reproducing queens is greater in areas of high nest density. The variation in queen number and nestmate relatedness in this study is consistent with expectations based on changes in ecological constraints during the invasion of a new habitat, suggesting that the social structure of Argentine ant populations is strongly influenced by ecological factors. Flexibility in social structure may facilitate persistence in variable environments and may also confer significant advantages to a species when introduced into new areas.
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Vol. 56 • No. 10