The species in question, Mycocepurus smithii, is a fungus-harvesting ant that, like a farmer, sows fungi for food. Yet species overwhelmingly engage in the messy, costly business of sex because it provides the genetic variation species need to react quickly to environment and ecosystem changes, said Ulrich Mueller, an integrative biologist at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study. In both syndromes, males often die shortly after mating. But until now, no one thought the fungus farming ant did it. Tracking differences in other, slowly mutating genes to retrace the evolutionary history of the ants, the team confirmed that the common ancestor of the group probably reproduced sexually, and that asexuality had evolved multiple times independently.
By contrast, worker ants in the other 31 other colonies were all genetically identical to their queens. A pair mates in the air when a male inserts his aedeagus analog of a penis into a female's reproductive tract and deposits sperm. During the less common female-calling syndrome, breeding females come up to the surface of their natal colonies and release pheromones to attract males for mating, which occurs on the ground. Like the female-ruled tribe of mythology, the sexual queens are probably using, and then losing, the studs. But in the other four populations Rabeling got a surprise, he says. Ants from the other locations also had sperm storage organs, but they were empty, suggesting that they once had the capacity to reproduce sexually but no longer do. Sex adds new genes to flailing communities, but it can also break apart sets of genes that work well together. Ant society is divided into several castes, including workers, soldiers, drones and queens. Researchers didn't suspect anything unusual about it until a study reported that colonies of M. In these groups, which live along the Amazon River and one of its tributaries in Brazil, worker ants toted an eclectic mix of genes, much like you'd see in any sexual society. But the fungus-farming ant is one of the few species that appeared to adopt a purely asexual lifestyle: I suspected that I made a mistake," he says. But until now, no one thought the fungus farming ant did it. And most of those seemed to mix sexual and asexual reproduction. June 26, But he cautions against overlooking the perks of asexuality, too. He and colleagues again dissected queens, and this time they found sperm, a sure sign that these few matriarchs had been breaking their vows. Like the Puerto Rico colonies, most of these ants lived like nuns in a convent. A new survey of a Latin American species famed for being one of the world's few asexual ants has uncovered a surprising find: Such indecorous affairs are a big testament to the power of sex, Rabeling says. Harvester ants and other species will mate with five to 15 drones before calling it quits, Tschinkel told LiveScience. By Daniel Strain Jul. Here, southern wood ants pair up during their nuptial phase. Yet species overwhelmingly engage in the messy, costly business of sex because it provides the genetic variation species need to react quickly to environment and ecosystem changes, said Ulrich Mueller, an integrative biologist at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study. Jul 18, Tia Ghose M. More like a sexual revolution. One advantage of asexuality for colonizing ants is that just one individual, rather than two, can clone itself and establish a new population, Mueller said.
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