Inbreeding tolerance as a pre-adapted trait for invasion success in the invasive ant Brachyponera chinensis

Identifying traits that facilitate species introductions and successful invasions of ecosystems represents a key issue in ecology. Following their establishment into new environments, many non-native species exhibit phenotypic plasticity with post-introduction changes in behaviour, morphology or life history traits that allow them to overcome the presumed loss of genetic diversity resulting in inbreeding and reduced adaptive potential. Here, we present a unique strategy in the invasive ant Brachyponera chinensis (Emery), in which inbreeding tolerance is a pre-adapted trait for invasion success, allowing this ant to cope with genetic depletion following a genetic bottleneck. We report for the first time that inbreeding is not a consequence of the founder effect following introduction, but it is due to mating between sister queens and their brothers that pre-exists in native populations which may have helped it circumvent the cost of invasion. We show that a genetic bottleneck does not affect the genetic diversity or the level of heterozygosity within colonies and suggest that generations of sib-mating in native populations may have reduced inbreeding depression through purifying selection of deleterious alleles. This work highlights how a unique life history may pre-adapt some species for biological invasions.