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Genetic relatedness in early associations of Polistes dominulus: from related to unrelated helpers


Lorenzo R.S. Zanette, Fax: +44 (0) 1603 592250; E-mail:


Indirect benefits obtained through the reproduction of relatives are fundamental in the formation and maintenance of groups. Here, we examine the hypothesis that females of the temperate paper wasp Polistes dominulus preferentially form groups with close relatives. Genetic relatedness data were obtained for 180 groups of females collected at the early stages of the nesting cycle of a large population of P. dominulus in two sites in southwestern Spain. Average within-group relatedness values ranged from 0.189 to 0.491. Foundresses on early nests were significantly more closely related than females in winter aggregations or in stable groups (just before workers emerged). Within-group relatedness values were independent of group size. The vast majority of worker-producing nests (c. 85%) had one or more females that were unrelated (or distantly related) to the remaining members of the group. These results provide further support to the hypothesis that indirect fitness benefits alone are unlikely to explain why P. dominulus foundresses form cooperative associations.