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Seasonally Variable Eusocially Selected Traits in the Paper Wasp, Mischocyttarus mexicanus


Charles W. Gunnels IV, Department of Zoology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8525, USA.


The expression of alternative traits that benefit eusocial individuals but are not directly involved in reproductive differences among those individuals, which I call ‘eusocially selected traits’, may vary in response to environmental changes if this increases an individual's inclusive fitness. In this study, I describe traits that separate individuals within the reproductive division of labor of Mischocyttarus mexicanus, a eusocial paper wasp, and determine whether observed eusocially selected traits vary across seasons. I examined M. mexicanus because females initiate new nests throughout most of the year where they experience different conditions depending on the season. Findings from this study suggest two main conclusions: (1) phenotypic differences among M. mexicanus females are mixed, showing specialized, generalized, and context-dependent eusocially selected traits and (2) a female's position within the reproductive division of labor may be influenced by its state. The presence of context-dependent traits, e.g. large females initiated solitary nests in the spring and grouped nests during the summer, suggests that the payoff for pursuing different positions within the reproductive division of labor changes across seasons. The expression of context-dependent eusocially selected traits also suggests that, roles, instead of castes, may better reflect the reproductive division of labor among individuals of eusocial species like M. mexicanus.