Prehibernating aggregations of Polistes dominulus: an occasion to study early dominance assessment in social insects
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At a very early age several mammals establish a first dominance hierarchy, which often persists into adulthood. Social wasps offer an excellent opportunity to study such a phenomenon in insects. Indeed, foundresses of several paper wasps meet in clusters to hibernate from September to March. In spring, wasps found new associative nests where linear hierarchies occur. In the first phase of hibernation, clustering Polistes dominulus wasps show most of the social interactions occurring on the nest 6 months later. At the emergence from diapause, some females already show some behavioral and physiological traits typical of dominant individuals. Here, we investigated the significance of the interactions in the autumnal clusters. We demonstrated that in a given pair, it is more likely that the dominant wasp in autumn becomes the alpha female in spring after the nest foundation phase occurred. Moreover, we showed that dominant females in clusters have both larger body size and ovaries. As ovarian development mainly depends on the social context, our findings seem to indicate that social factors affect the tendency to dominate in aggregations. Furthermore, we suggest that some females may reinforce their physiological status by dominating in clusters, thus increasing the probability to become dominant in spring.
KeywordsOvarian Development Dominance Hierarchy Social Wasp Dominant Female Large Ovary
We thank Aviva Liebert, Ivan Norscia, Antionette Welthagen, Tatiana Czeschlik, and three anonymous referees for the review of the manuscript; Chiara Cotoneschi, Cristina Pansolli, and Tommaso Paoli for helping in data collection; and Nobile di Montepulciano for clarifying some shady concepts. All the experimental procedures conformed to Italian law.
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