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Population genetics of the invasive wasp Vespula germanica in South Africa


The German wasp (Vespula germanica) is a highly successful invader on a global scale. These wasps were first observed in the Western Cape region in South Africa in 1972, and they have the potential to expand their range and cause significant damage to the native biodiversity. Our study used nuclear (DNA microsatellites) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 42 wasp colonies to analyse the population genetics of V. germanica in their invaded South African range. We sequenced three mitochondrial genes; cytochrome c oxidase I, cytochrome b and cytochrome c oxidase II. We found six mtDNA haplotypes present in South Africa. Although only a single fertilized queen is sufficient for the establishment of a wasp nest, the probability of a single introduced queen to successfully establish a nest and a population is very small. If multiple queens were introduced at the same time, the probability for more than one haplotype being transferred to the new population increases. Therefore, the true number of queen introductions occurred in South Africa can be inferred to be between two and six. We examined nine microsatellite loci and found weak-to-no genetic sub-structuring, likely due to high dispersal rates. We concluded that German wasps in South Africa maintain a homogenous population with movement of individuals between localities.

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This work was funded by Victoria University of Wellington. We thank Julia Schmack for sharing her DNA microsatellite data with us and two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments that improved our original manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. Eloff.

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Eloff, J., Veldtman, R., Bulgarella, M. et al. Population genetics of the invasive wasp Vespula germanica in South Africa. Insect. Soc. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-020-00752-x

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  • DNA microsatellites
  • Genetic diversity
  • Hymenoptera
  • mtDNA
  • Vespula
  • Yellowjacket wasps