, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 27-35
Date: 25 Jan 2005

Stable relatedness structure of the large-colony swarm-founding wasp Polybia paulista

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In social-insect colonies, cooperation among nestmates is generally stabilized by their high genetic similarity. Thus, fitness gained through cooperation drops quickly as the number of reproductive females (queens) increases. In this respect, wasps of the tribe Epiponini have attracted special attention, because the colonies have tens, or even hundreds of queens. It has been empirically or genetically confirmed that relatedness within nestmates can be elevated by a mechanism known as cyclical monogyny, under which new queens are produced only after the number of old queens is reduced to one. Another likely factor that can increase relatedness within nestmates under polygyny is comb partitioning by queens. If queens concentrate their egg laying on one or a subset of the available combs, then workers may be able to rear closer relatives by focusing their work on the comb where they emerged. Using microsatellite markers, we tested the hypotheses of cyclical monogyny and comb partitioning by queens increasing relatedness within nestmates under polygyny in the large-colony epiponine wasp, Polybia paulista. There were no significant differences between relatedness within combs and between combs, and thus we ruled out the possibility that each queen partitions reproduction between combs. However, as cyclical monogyny predicts, a lower effective number of queens contributed to queen production than to worker production. Cyclical monogyny explained well the observed smaller effective number of queens for new queens than that for workers, but failed to explain the stable relatedness values throughout colony cycles.

Communicated by L. Keller