, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 363-371
Date: 17 Nov 2013

Context-dependent acceptance of non-nestmates in a primitively eusocial insect

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Abstract

The benefits of cooperation are essential in driving group formation. However, an individual can gain significant benefits by acting selfishly at a substantial cost to others in the group. Thus, group members must find a balance between accepting and rejecting potential new members. Here, I explore the factors that mediate acceptance of non-related individuals during the period of group establishment in the primitively eusocial wasp Mischocyttarus mexicanus. In this species, group composition changes during establishment, with non-related females (non-nestmates) sometimes accepted into a foreign colony. By experimentally introducing non-nestmates to newly established colonies, I test the hypothesis that acceptance threshold of nestmates towards non-nestmates shifts depending on the ecological context, as predicted by the Optimal Acceptance Threshold Model. I explored how non-nestmate age (young vs. old), stage of colony establishment (early vs. late), initial behavior of the non-nestmates (non-aggressive vs. aggressive), and the behavioral response by nestmates (non-aggressive vs. aggressive) affected the rates of acceptance. My results show an effect of both non-nestmate age and stage of colony development on non-nestmate acceptance. Young non-nestmates were more frequently accepted in early than in late colonies. Late colonies more frequently rejected both young and old non-nestmates, suggesting a cost of accepting potential usurpers into late colonies. Surprisingly, non-nestmate aggressive behavior did not have a direct effect on their acceptance, but it triggered an aggressive response from nestmates. These findings reveal a shift in the acceptance threshold, suggesting an effect of the social context and the specific needs of a colony on non-nestmate acceptance.

Communicated by R. F. A. Moritz