Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 412–419 | Cite as

Per-capita productivity in a social wasp: no evidence for a negative effect of colony size

  • A. M. BouwmaEmail author
  • E. V. Nordheim
  • R. L. Jeanne
Research article


Optimal colony size in eusocial insects likely reflects a balance between ecological factors and factors intrinsic to the social group. In a seminal paper Michener (1964) showed for some species of social Hymenoptera that colony production of immature stages (productivity), when transformed to a per-female basis, was inversely related to colony size. He concluded that social patterns exist in the social insects that cause smaller groups to be more efficient than larger groups. This result has come to be known as “Michener’s paradox” because it suggests that selection on efficiency would oppose the evolution of the large and complex societies that are common in the social insects. Michener suggested that large colony size has other advantages, such as improved defense and homeostasis, that are favored by selection. For his analysis of swarm-founding wasps, Michener combined data from colonies of different species and different developmental stages in order to obtain adequate sample sizes; therefore, his study did not make a strong case that efficiency decreases with increasing colony size (across colonies) in these wasps. We tested Michener’s hypothesis on the Neotropical swarm-founding wasp Parachartergus fraternus, while controlling for stage of colony development. We found that small colonies were more variable in percapita productivity relative to larger colonies, but found no evidence for a negative relationship between efficiency and size across colonies.


Parachartergus fraternus Polistinae social wasps per-capita productivity colony size 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Bouwma
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • E. V. Nordheim
    • 2
  • R. L. Jeanne
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonU.S.A.
  2. 2.Departments of Statistics and of Forest Ecology and ManagementUniversity of WisconsinMadisonU.S.A.
  3. 3.Department of Entomology and NematologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleU.S.A.

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