, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 3-16

Control of reproduction in social insect colonies: individual and collective relatedness preferences in the paper wasp, Polistes annularis

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Social insect colonies often have one or a few queens. How these queens maintain their reproductive monopoly, when other colony members could gain by sharing in the reproduction, is not generally known. DNA microsatellite genotyping is used to determine reproductive interests of various classes of colony members in the paper wasp, Polistes annularis. The relatedness estimates show that the best outcome for most individuals is to be the reproductive egg-layer. For workers, this depends on the sex of offspring: they should prefer to lay their own male eggs, but are indifferent if the queen lays the female eggs. The next-best choice is usually to support the current queen. As a rule, subordinates and workers should prefer the current queen to reproduce over other candidates (though subordinates have no strong preference for the queen over other subordinates, and workers may prefer other workers as a source of male eggs). This result supports the theory that reproductive monopoly stems from the collective preferences of non-reproductives, who suppress each other in favor of the queen. However, we reject the general hypothesis of collective worker control in this species because its predictions about who should succeed after the death of the present queen are not upheld. The first successor is a subordinate foundress even though workers should generally prefer a worker successor. If all foundresses have died, an older worker succeeds as queen, in spite of a collective worker preference for a young worker. The results support the previous suggestion that age serves as a conventional cue serving to reduce conflict over queen succession.

Received: 3 May 1996 / Accepted after revision: 22 September 1996