Little effect of seasonal constraints on population genetic structure in eusocial paper wasps


  • This study was supported by grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation (to TL and LK) and NERC grant (NE/G000638/1) to SS.


Thibault Lengronne, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, NW1 4RY London, UK.


Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. Tel: +41 21 692 4203; Fax: +41 21 692 4165; E-mail:


Climate has long been suggested to affect population genetic structures of eusocial insect societies. For instance, Hamilton [Journal of Theoretical Biology 7 (1964) 17] discusses whether temperate and tropical eusocial insects may show differences in population-level genetic structure and viscosity, and how this might relate to differences in the degree of synchrony in their life cycles or modes of nest founding. Despite the importance of Hamilton's 1964 papers, this specific idea has not been tested in actual populations of wasps, probably due to the paucity of studies on tropical species. Here, we compare colony and population genetic structures in two species of primitively eusocial paper wasps with contrasting ecologies: the tropical species Polistes canadensis and the temperate species P. dominulus. Our results provide important clarifications of Hamilton's discussion. Specifically, we show that the genetic structures of the temperate and tropical species were very similar, indicating that seasonality does not greatly affect population viscosity or inbreeding. For both species, the high genetic differentiation between nests suggests strong selection at the nest level to live with relatives, whereas low population viscosity and low genetic differentiation between nest aggregations might reflect balancing selection to disperse, avoiding competition with relatives. Overall, our study suggests no prevalence of seasonal constraints of the life cycle in affecting the population genetic structure of eusocial paper wasps. These conclusions are likely to apply also to other primitively eusocial insects, such as halictine bees. They also highlight how selection for a kin structure that promotes altruism can override potential effects of ecology in eusocial insects.