Context-dependent acceptance of non-nestmates in a primitively eusocial insect

Abstract

The benefits of cooperation are essential in driving group formation. However, an individual can gain significant benefits by acting selfishly at a substantial cost to others in the group. Thus, group members must find a balance between accepting and rejecting potential new members. Here, I explore the factors that mediate acceptance of non-related individuals during the period of group establishment in the primitively eusocial wasp Mischocyttarus mexicanus. In this species, group composition changes during establishment, with non-related females (non-nestmates) sometimes accepted into a foreign colony. By experimentally introducing non-nestmates to newly established colonies, I test the hypothesis that acceptance threshold of nestmates towards non-nestmates shifts depending on the ecological context, as predicted by the Optimal Acceptance Threshold Model. I explored how non-nestmate age (young vs. old), stage of colony establishment (early vs. late), initial behavior of the non-nestmates (non-aggressive vs. aggressive), and the behavioral response by nestmates (non-aggressive vs. aggressive) affected the rates of acceptance. My results show an effect of both non-nestmate age and stage of colony development on non-nestmate acceptance. Young non-nestmates were more frequently accepted in early than in late colonies. Late colonies more frequently rejected both young and old non-nestmates, suggesting a cost of accepting potential usurpers into late colonies. Surprisingly, non-nestmate aggressive behavior did not have a direct effect on their acceptance, but it triggered an aggressive response from nestmates. These findings reveal a shift in the acceptance threshold, suggesting an effect of the social context and the specific needs of a colony on non-nestmate acceptance.

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Acknowledgments

I thank N. Tucci, C. Muniz, A. Murfin, Z. Buckley, F. Brand, and C. Beers for assistance in field experiments and the staff of Kendall Indian Hammocks Park for logistic support. O. Gaoue provided advice for GLM analysis. K. Waddington, W. Searcy, S. O'Donnell, A. Dubois, A. Uy, and members of the Uy and Searcy labs gave helpful comments to improve earlier versions of the manuscript. This study was funded by a Sigma Xi Grant in-Aid of Research, a GAFAC Funding Award, and the William H. Evoy Research Support Fund and complied with the regulations of the Miami-Dade County Parks & Recreation Department, with special thanks to Alicie Warren and Eduardo Salzedo for permit logistics.

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Correspondence to Floria Mora-Kepfer.

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Communicated by R. F. A. Moritz

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Mora-Kepfer, F. Context-dependent acceptance of non-nestmates in a primitively eusocial insect. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 363–371 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1650-2

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Keywords

  • Acceptance threshold
  • Context-dependent
  • Non-nestmate
  • Plasticity
  • Primitively eusocial wasp