• caste ratio;
  • optimal ratio theory;
  • reproductive output;
  • social trematodes;
  • Philophthalmus ;
  • Maritrema novaezealandensis


Intraspecific phenotypic diversification in social organisms often leads to formation of physical castes which are morphologically specialized for particular tasks within the colony. The optimal caste allocation theory argues that specialized morphological castes are efficient at specific tasks, and hence different caste ratios should affect the ergonomic efficiency, hence reproductive output of the colony. However, the reproductive output of different caste ratios has been documented in few species of insects with equivocal support for the theory. This study investigated whether the ratios of nonreproductive and reproductive morphs affect the reproductive output of a recently discovered social trematode, Philophthalmus sp., in which the nonreproductive members are hypothesized to be defensive specialists. A census of natural infections and a manipulative in vitro experiment demonstrated a positive association between the reproductive output of trematode colonies and the ratio of nonreproductive to reproductive morphs in the presence of an intra-host trematode competitor, Maritrema novaezealandensis. On the contrary, without the competitor, reproductive output was negatively associated with the proportion of nonreproductive castes in colonies. Our findings demonstrate for the first time a clear fitness benefit associated with the nonreproductive castes in the presence of a competitor while illustrating the cost of maintaining such morphs in noncompetitive situations. Although the proximate mechanisms controlling caste ratio remain unclear in this trematode system, this study supports the prediction that the fitness of colonies is influenced by the composition of specialized functional morphs in social organisms, suggesting a potential for adaptive shifts of caste ratios over evolutionary time.