CIE Spotlight: Social structure and landscape genetics of the endemic New Caledonian ant Leptomyrmex pallens Emery, 1883, in the context of fire-induced rainforest fragmentation

Adam M.
Adam M.

Authors: Berman, Maia; Austin, Christopher M.; Burridge, Christopher P.; Miller, Adam D.

Source: CONSERVATION GENETICS, 17 (4):931-947, AUG 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to biodiversity, as it can alter ecological processes at various spatial and trophic scales. At the species level, fragmentation leading to the isolation of populations can trigger reductions in genetic diversity, potentially having detrimental effects on population fitness, adaptability and ultimately population persistence.

Leptomyrmex pallens is a widespread rainforest ant endemic to New Caledonia but now confined to habitat patches that have been fragmented by anthropogenic fire regimes over the last 200 years.

We investigated the social structure of L. pallens in the Aoupinié region (c.a. 4900 ha), and assessed the impacts of habitat fragmentation on its population genetic structure. Allele frequencies at 13 polymorphic microsatellite loci were compared among 411 worker ants from 21 nests distributed across the region. High within-nest relatedness (r = 0.70 ± 0.02), and a single queen found in 38 % of the nests by pedigree analysis indicate that the species is monogynous to weakly polygynous.

Estimates of gene flow and genetic structure across the region were subsequently determined using a combined dataset of single workers per nest and of unrelated foraging workers.

These estimates coupled with a comprehensive landscape genetic analysis revealed no evidence of significant population structure or habitat effects, suggesting that the Aoupinié region harbours a single panmictic population. In contrast, analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequence data revealed a high degree of genetic structuring, indicating limited maternal gene flow and suggesting that gene flow among nests is driven primarily by winged males.

Overall these findings suggest that fire-induced habitat fragmentation has had little impact on the population dynamics of L. pallens. Additional studies of less mobile species should therefore be conducted to gain further insights into fire related disturbances on the unique biodiversity and function of New Caledonian ecosystems.