Biological Invasions

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 3431–3444 | Cite as

Weak nestmate discrimination behavior in native and invasive populations of a yellowjacket wasp (Vespula pensylvanica)

  • Kevin J. LoopeEmail author
  • Jocelyn G. Millar
  • Erin E. Wilson Rankin
Original Paper


In geographic regions with warm winters, invasive yellowjacket wasp colonies (genus Vespula) often exhibit polygyny (multiple queens) and persist for multiple years, despite these phenomena being rare in the native range. Here, we test the hypothesis that polygyny, caused by foreign queens being accepted into an existing colony, is the result of relaxed nestmate recognition in the invasive range, as has been observed in some supercolonial invasive ants. In bioassays with wild colonies in the field, we found that nestmate discrimination was weak in both invasive (Hawaii) and native (California) populations of Vespula pensylvanica, with significant nestmate discrimination in only ~ 30% of trials. We also found that the diversity and variability of cuticular hydrocarbons, chemical compounds that mediate nestmate recognition, were not reduced in introduced populations, unlike several supercolonial invasive ant species. Our findings suggest that ancestral weak nestmate discrimination behavior of V. pensylvanica may make this species pre-adapted to transition to polygyny and extended colony lifespans when introduced into environments with benign winters that facilitate foreign queens joining existing colonies in late season.


Nestmate recognition Cuticular hydrocarbons Supercolonies Polygyny Social insects Hawaii 



We thank David Rankin and Sarah Barney for assistance in the field, Roger and Gail Wynn for allowing us to work on their property, and Steve McElfresh and Sean Halloran for help with chemical analyses. Chien Yu helped with video and chemical data collection. Elizabeth Hunter gave statistical advice, and Jessica Purcell gave helpful comments on a version of this manuscript. This work was supported by a USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship (2016-67012-24681) to KJL and an NSF DEB (#1557163) to EWR. Work in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was conducted under permit HAVO-2015-SCI-0044.

Supplementary material

10530_2018_1783_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (15 kb)
Online Electronic Resource 1: a spreadsheet of all cuticular compounds detected, with diagnostic ions. (XLSX 14 kb)

Online Electronic Resource 2: A video depicting examples of short and long antennations, and attacks on a focal presented worker, and an attack and trophallaxis with a non-focal worker. (MP4 7123 kb)

10530_2018_1783_MOESM3_ESM.mp4 (6.8 mb)
Online Electronic Resource 3: A video depicting mutual antennation between a colony worker and a focal presented worker, followed by solicitation of trophallaxis and then attack. (MP4 6913 kb)
10530_2018_1783_MOESM4_ESM.mp4 (3.7 mb)
Online Electronic Resource 4: A video depicting mutual antennation and trophallaxis between a colony worker and a focal presented worker. (MP4 3816 kb)
10530_2018_1783_MOESM5_ESM.jpg (3.7 mb)
Online Electronic Resource 5 (JPEG 3775 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA

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