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Queen number, queen cycling and queen loss: the evolution of complex multiple queen societies in the social wasp genus Ropalidia

Queen number, queen cycling and queen loss: the evolution of complex multiple queen societies in the social wasp genus Ropalidia

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 55(5): 469-476

Complex, highly integrated societies have evolved from simpler societies repeatedly, and the social insects provide an excellent model system for understanding increasing complexity and integration. In the paper wasps, large societies, known as swarm-founding, have evolved repeatedly from smaller societies, known as independent-founding. Swarm-founding colonies have many more queens than independent-founding colonies, which should dramatically reduce relatedness, posing a challenge to cooperation. However, in each instance, swarm-founding species have also evolved a cyclical pattern of queen reduction which elevates relatedness despite high queen numbers. The genus Ropalidia provides an excellent system in which to study the transition to swarm-founding because it has both independent and swarm-founding species. We studied the Australian independent-founding wasp Ropalidia revolutionalis to better understand the evolution of multiple queens and their periodic reductions in swarm-founding wasps. Using microsatellite genetic markers we genotyped queens, workers and brood from 37 colonies and found that while most colonies had a single queen, three of the colonies had multiple queens at or immediately prior to the time of collection. An additional seven colonies had had multiple co-occurring queens earlier in the season. We also found that colonies experienced many queen losses, and that founding queens were gradually lost until they were replaced by a new cohort of daughter queens in many colonies. This pattern is similar to the periodic reductions and replacements in swarm-founding wasps and suggests that multiple queens and queen cycling evolved relatively early in the shift to swarm-founding in Ropalidia.

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Accession: 004290948

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DOI: 10.1007/s00265-003-0725-x

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