Article

Complex social behaviour can select for variability in visual features: A case study in Polistes wasps

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.05). 10/2004; 271(1551):1955-60. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2784
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT

The ability to recognize individuals is common in animals; however, we know little about why the phenotypic variability necessary for individual recognition has evolved in some animals but not others. One possibility is that natural selection favours variability in some social contexts but not in others. Polistes fuscatus wasps have variable facial and abdominal markings used for individual recognition within their complex societies. Here, I explore whether social behaviour can select for variability by examining the relationship between social behaviour and variability in visual features (marking variability) across social wasp taxa. Analysis using a concentrated changes test demonstrates that marking variability is significantly associated with nesting strategy. Species with flexible nest-founding strategies have highly variable markings, whereas species without flexible nest-founding strategies have low marking variability. These results suggest that: (i) individual recognition may be widespread in the social wasps, and (ii) natural selection may play a role in the origin and maintenance of the variable distinctive markings. Theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that species with flexible nesting strategies have reproductive transactions, a type of complex social behaviour predicted to require individual recognition. Therefore, the reproductive transactions of flexible species may select for highly variable individuals who are easy to identify as individuals. Further, selection for distinctiveness may provide an alternative explanation for the evolution of phenotypic diversity.

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Available from: Elizabeth Tibbetts, Aug 20, 2015
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    • "The facial patterns of Polistes paper wasps provide anecdotal support for a role of contingency in determining whether species evolve signals or social recognition. Variable color patches on the face have evolved multiple times in species with flexible nesting strategies, where some nests are founded by a solitary queen and others are initiated by groups of queens (Tibbetts 2004). Experimental work has shown that the variable color patterns in Polistes fuscatus are signals of individual identity and used to assess others via social recognition (Tibbetts 2002; Sheehan and Tibbetts 2008, 2009). "
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    • "Reeve (1991) reviews how the frequency of aggression and a clear division of labor correlate with the degree to which a species has evolved a well-developed hierarchy. Tibbetts (2004) mapped the presence/absence of facial recognition ability onto the Polistes phylogeny to infer that there have been at least three independent gains of facial recognition in the genus, all in species with cooperative foundress associations . A similar approach applied to other traits of dominance hierarchies, and further expanding such a Fig. 2 Mechanisms correlated with behavioral and/or reproductive hierarchy across Polistes species. "
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    • "Behavioural experiments have shown that foundresses that provide unique identity signals receive substantial social benefits, such as decreased aggression within foundress groups, compared with social benefits for unrecognizable foundresses (Sheehan & Tibbetts, 2009). Furthermore, comparative analyses indicate that the type of variable facial patterns used during social signalling are only found in paper wasp species that form cooperative foundress associations, suggesting that signals of individual identity are favoured because of social benefits in the founding stage (Sheehan & Tibbetts, 2010; Tibbetts, 2004). Although individual recognition is important among foundresses , there is no evidence that workers use individual recognition during social interactions or that workers benefit by being individually recognizable. "
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