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Insurance-based advantage to helpers in a tropical hover wasp


The origin and maintenance of eusociality is a central problem in evolutionary biology1,2. Eusocial groups contain individuals that forfeit their own reproduction in order to help others reproduce. In facultatively eusocial taxa, offspring can choose whether to found new nests or become helpers in their natal groups. In many facultatively eusocial insects, offspring need continuous care during development, but adult carers have life expectancies shorter than the developmental period3,4,5,6,7. When a lone foundress dies, her partly reared brood are usually doomed. Here, we show that helpers in a tropical hover wasp (Liostenogaster flavolineata) have an insurance-based advantage over lone foundresses because after a helper dies, most of the brood that she has partly reared will be brought to maturity by surviving nest-mates. After some of the helpers are experimentally removed from a multi-female nest, the reduced group is left with more brood than it would normally rear. We found that larger, more valuable extra brood were reared through to maturity, but not smaller, less valuable brood. Smaller brood may be sacrificed to feed larger brood, and reduced groups probably benefited from increased short-term helper recruitment. Rearing extra brood did not increase adult mortality or brood development time.

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Figure 1: Number of brood in relation to group size just before removals.
Figure 2: Relationship between group size and the number of brood present just before the removals that were reared to the next developmental stage on control (open squares) and removal (filled circles) nests.
Figure 3: Number of extra large larvae reared through to the pupal stage on removal nests compared with controls (±1 standard error).


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We thank K. Durai, H. Rosli, A. Sofian and L. Kirton for their hospitality in Malaysia; A. Bolton, A. Bourke, M. Cant, W. Foster and I. Karsai for their comments on the manuscript; and the NERC for funding the research.

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Field, J., Shreeves, G., Sumner, S. et al. Insurance-based advantage to helpers in a tropical hover wasp. Nature 404, 869–871 (2000).

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