Predictors of nest growth: diminishing returns for subordinates in the paper wasp Polistes dominula

Lena Grinsted, Jeremy Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In cooperative breeders, subordinates that have alternative reproductive options are expected to stay and help dominant breeders only as long as they contribute to group productivity, if their fitness is linked with colony success. Female Polistes dominula paper wasps live as cooperative breeders in small groups of typically fewer than 10 females. Subordinates tend to have high-quality outside options, and so could choose alternative breeding tactics if their work efforts increased productivity negligibly. In the founding stage before workers emerge, we tested the effect of various predictors on nest growth, as a proxy for group productivity, and explored the shape of the relationship between group size and nest growth. We found group size to be the only significant predictor of nest growth: variation among body sizes within the group showed no effect, suggesting a lack of size-dependent task specialization in this species. Average body size and average genetic relatedness between group members similarly showed no effects on nest growth. Group size had a non-linear effect so that per-capita benefits to nest growth decreased in larger groups, and groups of 10 or more would benefit negligibly from additional group members. Hence, females might be better off pursuing other options than joining a large group. This finding helps to explain why P. dominula groups are usually relatively small in our study population. Further studies may illuminate the mechanisms behind the smaller per-capita nest growth that we found in larger groups.
Original languageEnglish
Article number88
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Early online date11 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

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