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Inferring polydomy: a review of functional, spatial and genetic methods for identifying colony boundaries

Ellis, S., Procter, D. S., Buckham-Bonnett, P., Robinson, E. J. H.
Insectes sociaux 2017 v.64 no.1 pp. 19-37
Formicidae, ecological function, evolution, genes, insect colonies, nests, social insects
Identifying the boundaries of a social insect colony is vital for properly understanding its ecological function and evolution. Many species of ants are polydomous: colonies inhabit multiple, spatially separated, nests. Ascertaining which nests are parts of the same colony is an important consideration when studying polydomous populations. In this paper, we review the methods that are used to identify which nests are parts of the same polydomous colony and to determine the boundaries of colonies. Specifically, we define and discuss three broad categories of approach: identifying nests sharing resources, identifying nests sharing space, and identifying nests sharing genes. For each of these approaches, we review the theoretical basis, the limitations of the approach and the methods that can be used to implement it. We argue that all three broad approaches have merits and weaknesses, and provide a methodological comparison to help researchers select the tool appropriate for the biological question they are investigating.