Lack of conflict during queen production in the social wasp Vespula maculifrons


Michael Goodisman, Fax: 1 404 894 0519; E-mail:


Social insects display extreme cooperative and helping behaviours. However, social insect colonies are also arenas of intense competitive interactions. One particularly important matter over which colony members may compete centres on the development of sexual offspring. Specifically, colony members may engage in selfish behaviours leading to reproductive competition, whereby individuals either strive to develop as sexuals or assist kin so that close relatives emerge as new reproductives. We investigated whether reproductive competition occurred in the polyandrous social wasp Vespula maculifrons. We genotyped V. maculifrons workers and new queens at eight polymorphic microsatellite loci to determine if larvae of particular genotypes were reared as gynes more frequently than expected by chance. However, we found no significant evidence of reproductive competition in this species. The proportional contributions of males to workers and new queens did not vary within colonies. Moreover, male reproductive skew did not differ between workers and new queens. Finally, novel statistical techniques uncovered no evidence of patriline reversal, the phenomenon whereby males that contribute little to worker production contribute substantially to new queen production. Consequently, we conclude that individual level selection operating to increase the frequency of selfish behaviours that would lead to reproductive competition has been nullified by colony-level selection acting to maintain colony efficiency and cooperation.