Solitary Nesting and Reproductive Success in the Paper Wasp Polistes aurifer

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology


wasps, paper wasps, wasp breeding, wasp reproduction, wasp nesting, diploid, triploid, genetics, insects, insect behavior, entomology

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Female Polistes paper wasps are capable of independent nesting, yet many populations demonstrate a mixture of solitary and cooperative nest foundation. Previous studies of Polistes have found survival and/or productivity advantages of cooperative nest foundation compared to solitary nesting, and reproductive skew models have been designed to predict the dynamics of such flexible cooperation. In this paper, we examine the success of different nesting strategies in a previously unstudied population of Polistes aurifer in southern California. The colony cycle of this population is less synchronous than that of other temperate species, and the frequency of solitary nesting averages 86.2%. Our data suggest that this low rate of cooperative nest founding is adaptive, as demonstrated by the lack of survival or productivity advantages for cooperative foundress associations. Due to foundress turnover and nest foundation later in the season, many nests produce only one set of offspring. This results in a loss of the eusocial nature of some nests in the population. Data from a small sample of multifoundress nests show significant positive reproductive skew, despite concession model predictions that skew should be low in populations with low ecological constraints on independent nesting. This lack of support for the concessions skew model reflects a diminished incentive for cooperation.