Relationship between invasion success and colony breeding structure in a subterranean termite.
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Factors promoting the establishment and colonization success of introduced populations in new environments constitute an important issue in biological invasions. In this context, the respective role of pre-adaptation and evolutionary changes during the invasion process is a key question that requires particular attention. This study compared the colony breeding structure (i.e. number and relatedness among reproductives within colonies) in native and introduced populations of the subterranean pest termite, Reticulitermes flavipes. We generated and analysed a data set of both microsatellite and mtDNA loci on termite samples collected in three introduced populations, one in France and two in Chile, and in the putative source population of French and Chilean infestations that has recently been identified in New Orleans, LA. We also provided a synthesis combining our results with those of previous studies to obtain a global picture of the variation in breeding structure in this species. Whereas most native US populations are mainly composed of colonies headed by monogamous pairs of primary reproductives, all introduced populations exhibit a particular colony breeding structure that is characterized by hundreds of inbreeding reproductives (neotenics) and by a propensity of colonies to fuse, a pattern shared uniquely with the population of New Orleans. These characteristics are comparable to those of many invasive ants and are discussed to play an important role during the invasion process. Our finding that the New Orleans population exhibits the same breeding structure as its related introduced populations suggests that this native population is pre-adapted to invade new ranges.