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Polistes paper wasps: a model genus for the study of social dominance hierarchies

Abstract

Polistes are an ideal system to study ultimate and proximate questions of dominance, and to test theoretical predictions about social evolution. The behaviors typically associated with dominance in Polistes are similar to those observed in many vertebrate societies. Here, we review recent ethological, mechanistic, and evolutionary studies on how social dominance hierarchies are established and maintained in Polistes spp. From the ultimate perspective, we address individual and group benefits of hierarchy formation, as well as issues such as reproductive skew, queen-worker conflict, and costs of challenging the dominant. From the proximate perspective, we review social, physical, and physiological factors influencing hierarchy formation, including co-foundress interactions, age structure, body size, endocrine system, and chemical and visual signals. We also discuss the extensive inter- and intra-specific variation of Polistes in the formation and maintenance of hierarchies, as well as levels of within-colony aggression. We conclude the review by highlighting the utility of this variation for comparative studies and the immense potential of the genus Polistes to address fundamental and unanswered questions about the evolution and maintenance of dominance behavior in animals.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Bob Jeanne for providing useful feedback on the manuscript, and members of the Toth lab (Iowa State University, U.S.) for their help in the early stages of manuscript development. Funding for JMJ and ALT was provided by NSF: IOS-1146410.

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Jandt, J.M., Tibbetts, E.A. & Toth, A.L. Polistes paper wasps: a model genus for the study of social dominance hierarchies. Insect. Soc. 61, 11–27 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-013-0328-0

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Keywords

  • Polistinae
  • Eusociality
  • Dominance hierarchy
  • Reproduction