Co-operation between non-relatives in a primitively eusocial wasp, Polistes dominula

Ellouise Leadbeater, Jeremy Field

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


In cooperatively breeding vertebrates, the existence of individuals that help to raise the offspring of non-relatives is well established, but unrelated helpers are less well known in the social insects. Eusocial insect groups overwhelmingly consist of close relatives, so populations where unrelated helpers are common are intriguing. Here, we focus on Polistes dominula—the best-studied primitively eusocial wasp, and a species in which nesting with non-relatives is not only present but frequent. We address two major questions: why individuals should choose to nest with non-relatives, and why such individuals participate in the costly rearing of unrelated offspring. Polistes dominula foundresses produce more offspring of their own as subordinates than when they nest independently, providing a potential explanation for co-founding by non-relatives. There is some evidence that unrelated subordinates tailor their behaviour towards direct fitness, while the role of recognition errors in generating unrelated co-foundresses is less clear. Remarkably, the remote but potentially highly rewarding chance of inheriting the dominant position appears to strongly influence behaviour, suggesting that primitively eusocial insects may have much more in common with their social vertebrate counterparts than has commonly been thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1687
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2016

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