Speciation and hybridization in invasive fire ants

Pnina Cohen, Eyal Privman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: A major focus of evolutionary biology is the formation of reproductive barriers leading to divergence and ultimately, speciation. Often, it is not clear whether the separation of populations is complete or if there still is ongoing gene flow in the form of rare cases of admixture, known as isolation with migration. Here, we studied the speciation of two fire ant species, Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri, both native to South America, both inadvertently introduced to North America in the early twentieth century. While the two species are known to admix in the introduced range, in the native range no hybrids were found. Results: We conducted a population genomic survey of native and introduced populations of the two species using reduced representation genomic sequencing of 337 samples. Using maximum likelihood analysis over native range samples, we found no evidence of any gene flow between the species since they diverged. We estimated their time of divergence to 190,000 (100,000-350,000) generations ago. Modelling the demographic history of native and introduced S. invicta populations, we evaluated their divergence times and historic and contemporary population sizes, including the original founder population in North America, which was estimated at 26 (10-93) unrelated singly-mated queens. Conclusions: We provide evidence for complete genetic isolation maintained between two invasive species in their natïve range, based, for the first time, on large scale genomic data analysis. The results lay the foundations for further studies into different stages in the formation of genetic barriers in dynamic, invasive populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 29 May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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