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

Sumner, Seirian; Lucas, Eric; Baker, Jessie; Isaac, Nick. 2007 Radio-tagging technology reveals extreme nest-drifting behavior in a eusocial insect. Current Biology, 17 (2). 140-145.

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Kin-selection theory underlies our basic understanding of social evolution 1 and 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.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
ISSN: 0960-9822
Additional Keywords: SYSNEURO
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Biology and Microbiology
Date made live: 30 Jan 2013 15:21 +0 (UTC)

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