Coevolution in the slave-parasite system Proformica longiseta-Rossomyrmex minuchae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Carmen Zamora-Muñoz, Francisca Ruano, Christine Errard, Alain Lenoir, Abraham Hefetz, Alberto Tinaut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous articles on slavemaker ants have identified different traits in slave species as a result of a potential coevolution with the slavemaker, demonstrating that species or populations used as slaves show an overall aggressive reaction against the slavemaker. The pairing of slave-parasite ants Proformica longiseta-Rossomyrmex minuchae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) constitutes a good model system to study the coevolution between the two species, because the parasite lives only in a very restricted area of the host's distribution and the strategies shown by the parasitized P. longiseta may differ from the rest of the non-parasitized population. We investigated the aggressive behavior of the potential host P. longiseta from different locations (allopatric and sympatric with respect to the parasite) against R. minuchae and in-between locations. The phylogenetically related Proformica ferreri, a neighboring non-host species, was used as a reference outgroup. Aggressiveness level in confrontations was related to differences in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and to geographical distances between the tested nests. Hydrocarbon profiles were correlated with geographical distances but not with aggression level. The slavemaker invariably won in all the confrontations but fights were less intensive against sympatric P. longiseta, also the location in which the host is less aggressive. We found comparative evidence suggesting that this low level of aggression might be an apomorphic trait, evolved by the parasite-selection pressure. For the first time in slavemaker ants, we demonstrate that the decreasing of a trait (aggressiveness) could be considered a counter-defense consequence of an arms race, a coevolutionary process in progress that matches with a Mafia system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-317
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003


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