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Colony stage and not facultative policing explains pattern of worker reproduction in the Saxon wasp

Authors

  • W. BONCKAERT,

    1. Laboratory of Entomology, Zoological Institute, Department of Biology, Catholic University of Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, Box 2466, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
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  • J. S. Van ZWEDEN,

    1. Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
    2. Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QC, UK
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  • P. D’ETTORRE,

    1. Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
    2. Laboratoire d’Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée, Université Paris 13, Villetaneuse, France
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  • J. BILLEN,

    1. Laboratory of Entomology, Zoological Institute, Department of Biology, Catholic University of Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, Box 2466, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
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  • T. WENSELEERS

    1. Laboratory of Entomology, Zoological Institute, Department of Biology, Catholic University of Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, Box 2466, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
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Wim Bonckaert, Fax: +32 16 324575; E-mail: wim.bonckaert@gmail.com

Abstract

Inclusive fitness theory predicts that in colonies of social Hymenoptera headed by a multiple-mated queen, workers should benefit from policing eggs laid by other workers. Foster & Ratnieks provided evidence that in the vespine wasp Dolichovespula saxonica, workers police other workers’ eggs only in colonies headed by a multiple-mated queen, but not in those headed by a single-mated one. This conclusion, however, was based on a relatively small sample size, and the original study did not control for possible confounding variables such as the seasonal colony progression of the nests. Our aim, therefore, was to reinvestigate whether or not facultative worker policing occurs in D. saxonica. Remarkably, our data show that in the studied Danish population, there was no correlation between worker–worker relatedness and the percentage of worker-derived males. In addition, we show that variability in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles among the workers did not significantly correlate with relatedness and that workers therefore probably did not have sufficient information on queen mating frequency from the workers’ cuticular hydrocarbon profiles. Hence, there was no evidence that workers facultatively policed other workers’ eggs in response to queen mating frequency. Nevertheless, our data do show that the seasonal progression of the nest and the location in which the males were reared both explain the patterns of worker reproduction found. Overall, our results suggest that the earlier evidence for facultative worker policing in D. saxonica may have been caused by accidental correlations with certain confounding variables, or, alternatively, that there are large interpopulation differences in the expression of worker policing.

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