Partner choice correlates with fine scale kin structuring in the paper wasp Polistes dominula

Paul John Parsons*, Lena Grinsted, Jeremy Field

*Corresponding author for this work

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Cooperation among kin is common in animal societies. Kin groups may form by individuals directly discriminating relatives based on kin recognition cues, or form passively through natal philopatry and limited dispersal. We describe the genetic landscape for a primitively eusocial wasp, Polistes dominula, and ask whether individuals choose cooperative partners that are nearby and/or that are genetic relatives. Firstly, we genotyped an entire sub-population of 1361 wasps and found genetic structuring on an extremely fine scale: the probability of finding genetic relatives decreases exponentially within just a few meters of an individual’s nest. At the same time, however, we found a lack of genetic structuring between natural nest aggregations within the population. Secondly, in a separate dataset where ~2000 wasps were genotyped, we show that wasps forced experimentally to make a new nest choice tended to choose new nests near to their original nests, and that these nests tended to contain some full sisters. However, a significant fraction of wasps chose nests that did not contain sisters, despite sisters being present in nearby nests. Although we cannot rule out a role for direct kin recognition or natal nest-mate recognition, our data suggest that kin groups may form via a philopatric rule-of-thumb, whereby wasps simply select groups and nesting sites that are nearby. The result is that most subordinate helpers obtain indirect fitness benefits by breeding cooperatively.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0221701
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2019


  • RCUK
  • NERC
  • NE/K00655X/1
  • NE/M003191/1


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