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


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.

Download full-text


Available from: Elizabeth Tibbetts, Aug 20, 2015
  • Source
    • "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). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: To successfully navigate their social environments animals need to assess conspecifics. Quality signals and social recognition are 2 assessment strategies that animals employ to evaluate potential rivals or mates. Despite substantial research on both assessment strategies, relatively little work has addressed how quality signals and social recognition interact. Here, we propose that quality signals and social recognition have an antagonistic evolutionary relationship, building on earlier assertions by Sievert Rohwer (American Zoologist, 1982). Both quality signals and social recognition provide animals access to information about conspecifics, allowing them to avoid costly confrontations or choose appropriate partners. We assert that, although the information gleaned from quality signals or social recognition overlaps, the processes by which information is acquired are distinct. Therefore, selection that favors quality signaling will lead to elaboration of signaling traits while disfavoring the elaboration of traits used in social recognition such as identity signals, learning, and memory. We first outline testable predictions for the hypothesis that quality signals and social recognition are antagonistic on evolutionary timescales, and we then explore its broader ramifications for understanding the distribution of signals and social recognition across taxa. Notably, the framework we propose emphasizes rarely considered factors such as body size that may tip the balance between the costs and benefits of each assessment strategy. Finally, we highlight the potential for important feedback between social assessment strategy and a species’ socioecology.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Behavioral Ecology
  • Source
    • "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. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Polistes are an ideal system to study ultimate and proximate questions of dominance, and to test theo-retical predictions about social evolution. The behaviors typically associated with dominance in Polistes are similar to those observed in many vertebrate societies. Here, we review recent ethological, mechanistic, and evolutionary studies on how social dominance hierarchies are established and maintained in Polistes spp. From the ultimate per-spective, we address individual and group benefits of hierarchy formation, as well as issues such as reproductive skew, queen-worker conflict, and costs of challenging the dominant. From the proximate perspective, we review social, physical, and physiological factors influencing hierarchy formation, including co-foundress interactions, age structure, body size, endocrine system, and chemical and visual signals. We also discuss the extensive inter-and intra-specific variation of Polistes in the formation and maintenance of hierarchies, as well as levels of within-colony aggression. We conclude the review by highlighting the utility of this variation for comparative studies and the immense potential of the genus Polistes to address funda-mental and unanswered questions about the evolution and maintenance of dominance behavior in animals.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2014 · Insectes Sociaux
  • Source
    • "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. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In many signalling systems, intraspecific variation in recognition abilities is based on developmental stage, experience or caste. However, the occurrence of intraspecific variation in recognition has not been thoroughly examined in species with individual recognition. For example, previous work has shown that individual recognition is an important aspect of the social life of Polistes fuscatus (paper wasp) nest-founding queens, as individual recognition stabilizes dominance interactions and reduces aggression. To date, the potential for individual recognition among P. fuscatus workers has been largely ignored. Here, we explore whether there is intraspecific variation in individual recognition by testing P. fuscatus worker recognition abilities in a series of staged contests. The results indicate that P. fuscatus workers are capable of individual recognition: focal workers paired with previously encountered partners experienced significantly less aggression and more nonaggressive bodily contact than focal workers paired with unknown social partners. We propose two potential explanations for individual recognition among workers: (1) worker individual recognition may be favoured because it provides social benefits to workers, or (2) worker individual recognition may be a byproduct of selection for individual recognition in foundresses. Individual recognition is often considered a cognitively challenging form of recognition, so future studies that compare the sophistication of recognition across castes will be useful to assess whether there are more subtle differences in cognitive abilities or recognition behaviour between P. fuscatus nest-founding queens and workers.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2013 · Animal Behaviour
Show more