Phylogenetic analysis and trait evolution of ant cocoons
Most ant species have lost the ability to spin cocoons. To explore the evolution of cocoon loss within Formicidae, we perform an ancestral state reconstruction of cocooned pupae across a genus-level phylogeny and use a sister clade analysis to determine the impact of cocoon evolution on ant speciation. Then, we fit models of correlated evolution between cocoon status and several other organismal traits. We find that the re-emergence of cocoons is rare and that “naked” lineages display an increased rate of speciation in 5 out of 9 sister group comparisons. Models of correlated evolution with cocoons were favored for metapleural gland and worker polymorphism. Metapleural gland favored rates of evolution were inconclusive, while worker polymorphism displayed a higher transition rate towards polymorphism coupled with cocoon loss. These results suggest that cocoon loss may allow for other complex traits to develop and may represent a novel example of relaxed selection.