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Keywords:

  • comparative analysis;
  • polyandry;
  • polygyny;
  • relatedness;
  • social insect

Abstract

Understanding the evolution of multiple mating by females (polyandry) is an important question in behavioural ecology. Most leading explanations for polyandry by social insect queens are based upon a postulated fitness benefit from increased intracolonial genetic diversity, which also arises when colonies are headed by multiple queens (polygyny). An indirect test of the genetic diversity hypotheses is therefore provided by the relationship between polyandry and polygyny across species, which should be negative if the genetic diversity hypotheses are correct. Here, we conduct a powerful comparative investigation of the relationship between polyandry and polygyny for 241 species of eusocial Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps). We find a clear and significant negative relationship between polyandry and polygyny after controlling for phylogeny. These results strongly suggest that fitness benefits resulting from increased intracolonial genetic diversity have played an important role in the evolution of polyandry, and possibly polygyny, in social insects.