High indirect fitness benefits for helpers across the nesting cycle in the tropical paper wasp Polistes canadensis

Robin Southon, Emily Bell, Peter Graystock, Chris D R Wyatt, Andy Radford, Seirian Sumner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
92 Downloads (Pure)


Explaining the evolution of helping behaviour in the eusocial insects where nonreproductive (“worker”) individuals help raise the offspring of other individuals (“queens”) remains one of the most perplexing phenomena in the natural world. Polistes paper wasps are popular study models, as workers retain the ability to reproduce: such totipotency is likely representative of the early stages of social evolution. Polistes is thought to have originated in the tropics, where seasonal constraints on reproductive options are weak and social groups are effectively perennial. Yet, most Polistes research has focused on nontropical species, where seasonality causes family groups to disperse; cofoundresses forming new nests the following spring are often unrelated, leading to the suggestion that direct fitness through nest inheritance is key in the evolution of helping behaviour. Here, we present the first comprehensive genetic study of social structure across the perennial nesting cycle of a tropical Polistes—Polistes canadensis. Using both microsatellites and newly developed single nucleotide polymorphism markers, we show that adult cofoundresses are highly related and that brood production is monopolized by a single female across the nesting cycle. Nonreproductive cofoundresses in tropical Polistes therefore have the potential to gain high indirect fitness benefits as helpers from the outset of group formation, and these benefits persist through the nesting cycle. Direct fitness may have been less important in the origin of Polistes sociality than previously suggested. These findings stress the importance of studying a range of species with diverse life history and ecologies when considering the evolution of reproductive strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3271-3284
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number13
Early online date24 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • inclusive fitness
  • Polistes
  • relatedness
  • reproductive skew
  • single nucleotide polymorphisms


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