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

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Publication details

JournalInsectes Sociaux
DateAccepted/In press - 6 Nov 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 5 Dec 2016
DatePublished (current) - Feb 2017
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)19-37
Early online date5/12/16
Original languageEnglish


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.

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© The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at

    Research areas

  • networks, social insects, cooperation, conflict, sociobiology, behavioural ecology, foraging, spatial ecology, ants, genetic structure, kin recognition, methods


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