No actual conflict over colony inheritance despite high potential conflict in the social wasp Polistes dominulus

Thibaud Monnin, Alessandro Cini, Vincent Lecat, Pierre Fédérici, Claudie Doums


Social insect societies are outstanding examples of cooperation and conflict. Individuals work together, yet seek to increase their inclusive fitness at each others' expense. One such conflict is over colony inheritance, when a queen inherits the colony following the death of the previous queen. Colony inheritance is common in the social wasp Polistes dominulus, and it can have dramatic fitness consequences. The subordinate inheriting the colony is often unrelated to the initial foundress (alpha) and the workers, who therefore get zero inclusive fitness. Workers are capable of mating and reproducing, so that inheritance by a subordinate rather than by a related worker is surprising. Using patterns of egg-laying and egg destruction, we show in 32 laboratory colonies that, upon the removal of alpha, workers fully accepted a subordinate as the new breeder. This new alpha monopolized reproduction to the same extent as alpha, and there was no increase in reproduction by workers and other subordinates. Why workers accept a potentially unrelated subordinate as breeder rather than a full-sister worker is unclear. They may be constrained to do so, and they may seek fitness benefits by producing males later in the season or by absconding the nest.



  • Present address: Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica ‘Leo Pardi’, Università di Firenze, via Romana 17, 50125 Firenze, Italy.

    • Received November 25, 2008.
    • Accepted December 17, 2008.
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