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Keywords:

  • eusociality;
  • genetic relatedness;
  • kin selection;
  • microsatellites;
  • split-sex ratios;
  • Vespidae

Kin selection theory has received some of its strongest support from analyses of within-colony conflicts between workers and queens in social insects. One of these conflicts involves the timing of queen production. In neotropical wasps, new queens are only produced by colonies with just one queen while males are produced by colonies with more queens, a pattern favoured by worker interests. We now show that new colonies, or swarms, have few queens and variable within-colony relatednesses which means that their production is not tied to new queen production. The queens in these swarms are seldom the mothers of the workers in the swarm. Therefore, either colonies producing swarms have very many queens, or queens joining daughter swarms are reproductive losers on the original colonies. As new colony production is not linked to queen production, it can occur at the ecologically optimum time, i.e. the rainy season. This disassociation between queen production and new colony production allows worker interests in sex ratios to prevail without hampering new colony production at the most favourable season, an uncoupling that may contribute to the ecological success of the Epiponini.