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Mol Ecol. 2001 Apr;10(4):1003-10.

Colony kin structure and male production in Dolichovespula wasps.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


In annual hymenopteran societies headed by a single outbred queen, paternity (determined by queen mating frequency and sperm use) is the sole variable affecting colony kin structure and is therefore a key predictor of colony reproductive characteristics. Here we investigate paternity and male production in five species of Dolichovespula wasps. Twenty workers from each of 10 colonies of each of five species, 1000 workers in total, were analysed at three DNA microsatellite loci to estimate paternity. To examine the relationship between kin structure and reproductive behaviour, worker ovary activation was assessed by dissection and the maternal origin of adult males was assessed by DNA microsatellites. Effective paternity was low in all species (D. media 1.08, D. maculata 1.0, D. sylvestris 1.15, D. norwegica 1.08 and D. saxonica 1.35), leading to the prediction of queen-worker conflict over male production. In support of this, workers with full-size eggs in their ovaries (four out of five species) and adult males that were workers' sons (all five species) were found in queenright colonies. However, workers were only responsible for a minority of male production (D. media 7.4%, D. maculata 20.9%, D. sylvestris 9.8%, D. norwegica 2.6% and D. saxonica 34.6%) suggesting that the queen maintains considerable reproductive power over the workers. Kin structure and reproductive conflict in Dolichovespula contrast with their sister group Vespula. Dolichovespula is characterized by low paternity, worker reproduction, and queen-worker conflict and Vespula by high paternity, effective worker policing and absence of worker reproduction. The trend revealed by this comparison is as predicted by kin selection theory suggesting that colony kin structure has been pivotal in the evolution of the yellowjacket wasps.

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