Radio-tagging technology reveals extreme nest-drifting behavior in a eusocial insect

Seirian Sumner*, Eric Lucas, Jessie Barker, Nick Isaac

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

82 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Kin-selection theory underlies our basic understanding of social evolution [1, 2]. Nest drifting in eusocial insects (where workers move between nests) presents a challenge to this paradigm, since a worker should remain as a helper on her natal colony, rather than visit other colonies to which she is less closely related. Here we reveal nest drifting as a strategy by which workers may maximize their indirect fitness by helping on several related nests, preferring those where the marginal return from their help is greatest. By using a novel monitoring technique, radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging, we provide the first accurate estimate of drifting in a eusocial insect: 56% of females drifted in a natural population of the eusocial paper wasp Polistes canadensis, exceeding previous records of drifting in natural populations by more than 30-fold. We demonstrate that drifting cannot be explained through social parasitism, queen succession, mistakes in nest identity, or methodological bias. Instead, workers appear to gain indirect fitness benefits by helping on several related colonies in a viscous population structure. The potential importance of this strategy as a component of the kin-selected benefits for a social insect worker has previously been overlooked because of methodological difficulties in quantifying and studying drifting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-145
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume17
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2007

Keywords

  • SOCIAL PARASITISM
  • GROUP-SIZE
  • POLISTES-EXCLAMANS
  • HONEYBEE WORKERS
  • PAPER WASP
  • HYMENOPTERA
  • CONSEQUENCES
  • DECISIONS
  • VESPIDAE
  • COLONIES

Cite this