Mating system and population structure of the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia revolutionalis: a model system for the evolution of complex societies


Michael T. Henshaw.


Mating systems are important determinants of genetic structure in cooperative groups, and their effects can influence profoundly the interactions of group members. The primitively eusocial wasp, Ropalidia revolutionalis, has an interesting genetic and social structure that makes it an excellent model system for examining the evolution of more complex societies. In particular, its colonies sometimes have multiple queens, a key characteristic of more advanced wasp societies. In this study, we have characterized the mating system of the social wasp Ropalidia revolutionalis to understand better its colony genetic structure. R. revolutionalis females nearly always mate singly and they are unrelated to their mates. However, different females in the same colony do mate with males, on average, who are related as cousins. Single mating will help to maintain high relatedness, which should be important for continued cooperation in multiple queen societies, but it creates potential conflicts in single queen colonies over the production of males as well as over the timing of male production. We have also characterized the population structure of R. revolutionalis from Townsville, in tropical north Queensland, to Brisbane in the subtropics. Even at such a large scale, the population is remarkably unstructured with an average FST of 0.0546. There is weak isolation by distance, and evidence for subtle differentiation between a southern region with no dry season, which extends as far north as Rockhampton, and a northern region with a severe to moderate dry season. This may reflect historical effects of extreme aridity on the population structure.