• brood size;
  • egg limitation;
  • host quality;
  • parasitoid wasps;
  • parent–offspring conflict;
  • polyembryony


Polyembryony has evolved independently in four families of parasitoid wasps. We review three main hypotheses for the selective forces favouring this developmental mode in parasitoids: polyembryony (i) reduces the costs of egg limitation; (ii) reduces the genetic conflict among offspring; and (iii) allows offspring to adjust their numbers to the quality of the host. Using comparative data and verbal and mathematical arguments, we evaluate the relative importance of the different selective forces through different evolutionary stages and in the different groups of polyembryonic wasps. We conclude that reducing the cost of egg limitation is especially important when large broods are favoured. Reducing genetic conflict may be most important when broods are small, thus might have been important during, or immediately following, the initial transition from monoembryony to polyembryony. Empirical data provide little support for the brood-size adjustment hypothesis, although it is likely to interact with other selective forces favouring polyembryony.