Date of this Version



Behavioural ecology, biodiversity, community ecology, conservation biology, invasive species, urban ecology


The formation of expansive multi-nest and multi-queen supercolonies is perhaps the most important factor responsible for the ecological success of invasive ants. The odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile, is a widespread ant native to North America. T. sessile is a challenging urban pest, but also serves as an interesting system to study ant social organization and invasion biology. This is due to its remarkable dichotomy in colony social and spatial structure between natural and urban environments. Natural colonies typically consist of a small number of workers, inhabit a single nest, and are monogyne whereas urban colonies show extreme polygyny and polydomy and form large supercolonies. The current study examined the extent to which T. sessile colonies from different habitats (natural vs. urban) and social structures (monogynous vs. polygynous) exhibit aggression toward alien conspecifics. Additionally, interactions between mutually aggressive colonies were examined in colony fusion experiments to assess the potential role of colony fusion as a mechanism leading to supercolony formation. Aggression assays demonstrated high levels of aggression in pairings involving workers from different urban colonies and workers from different natural colonies, but low aggression in pairings involving queens from different urban colonies. Colony merging tests demonstrated that urban T. sessile colonies are highly aggressive to each other, but capable of fusing under laboratory conditions when competing for limited nesting and food resources. Despite highly aggressive interactions and relatively high worker and queen mortality, all colony pairs merged in 3–5 days. Fusion occurred after most workers died and the survivors merged. This result suggests that the success of T. sessile in urban areas may be driven, at least in part, by successful colony mergers of unrelated colonies which may be determined by ecological constraints such as seasonal shortages in nest and/or food availability. In summary, two independent factors including the growth of a single colony and/or the merger of multiple colonies may be responsible for the evolution of supercolonies in invasive ants. Both processes may be happening simultaneously and may act synergistically to produce supercolonies.


This is the published version of the Buczkowski, G., Wang, S. & Craig, B.A. Behavioral assays reveal mechanisms of supercolony formation in odorous house ants. Sci Rep 13, 9013 (2023).