PerspectiveEvolution

Altruistic Wasps?

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Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 833-834
DOI: 10.1126/science.1210420

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Summary

Polistes dominulus is one of the most common social wasps in Europe and is an invasive species in the United States. Its wide prevalence has made it one of the best-studied social wasps. In most social wasps, the female wasps live in a colony and organize themselves into a behavioral dominance hierarchy such that only the dominant alpha individual (the queen) reproduces while the rest function as apparently altruistic, sterile subordinates (workers), building the nest, foraging for food and pulp, and feeding and caring for the brood. Why should workers invest their time and energy helping to rear the queen's brood, rather than found their own nests and rear their own brood—something they are quite capable of? On page 874 of this issue, Leadbeater et al. (1) show that the subordinates indeed produce their own offspring and this raises interesting questions about the links between altruism, direct reproduction, and the evolution of social behavior.