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Genetics. 1991 Mar;127(3):583-99.

The comparative biology of genetic variation for conditional sex ratio behavior in a parasitic wasp, Nasonia vitripennis.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Illinois 60637.


Using genetic markers, we tracked the sex ratio behavior of individual females of the parasitic wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, in foundress groups of size 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16. Comparison of 12 isofemale strains extracted from a natural population reveals significant between-strain heterogeneity of sex ratios produced in all sizes of foundress group. Under simple assumptions about population structure, this heterogeneity results in heterogeneity of fitnesses. The strains differ in their conditional sex ratio behavior (the sex ratio response of a female to foundress groups of different sizes). Females of some strains produce more males as foundress group size increases (up to size eight). Females of another strain produce more males when not alone but do not respond differentially to group size otherwise. Females of two other strains show no conditional sex ratio behavior. Females of only two strains behave differently in foundress groups of size 8 and 16. Correlation and regression analyses indicate that the strains differ significantly in their fit to the predictions of an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) model of conditional sex ratio behavior. Such heterogeneity contradicts the notion that females of this species possess conditonal sex ratio behavior that is optimal in the ESS sense. The results imply that this ESS model is useful but not sufficient for understanding the causal basis of the evolution of this behavior in this species. This is the first report on the sex ratio behavior of individual females in multiple foundress groups in any species of parasitic wasp. Data of this type (and not foundress group or "patch" sex ratios) are essential for testing evolutionary models that predict the sex ratio behaviors of individuals. We suggest that a test for an ESS model include the answers to two important questions: 1) is the model quantitatively accurate? and 2) is there reasonable evidence to indicate that natural selection has caused individuals to manifest the ESS behavior?

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