Nepotism absent in insect societies — or is it?


Tom Wenseleers, Laboratory of Entomology, Zoological Institute, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. Fax: +32 16 32 45 75; E-mail:


Inclusive fitness theory, put forward by English biologist William Hamilton in 1964, is considered by many as the most important addition to the theory of natural selection since Darwin. One prediction of the theory is that animals should often show a tendency to nepotistically favour close relatives. Goodisman et al. (2007) test this theory for the first time using molecular methods in a vespine wasp, the eastern yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons. Somewhat surprisingly, nepotism was found to be absent. This begs the question why nepotism is predicted by theory, yet in a growing list of species is shown to be absent. Is inclusive fitness theory in trouble? As we show, it is not: costs and constraints explain the general absence of queen rearing nepotism, and nepotism in insect societies in fact is well supported in the context of male rearing and manipulation of colony sex ratios.