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Weak nestmate discrimination behavior in native and invasive populations of a yellowjacket wasp (Vespula pensylvanica)

Loope, Kevin J., Millar, Jocelyn G., Wilson Rankin, Erin E.
Biological invasions 2018 v.20 no.12 pp. 3431-3444
Formicidae, Vespula pensylvanica, bioassays, ecological invasion, hydrocarbons, indigenous species, invasive species, nestmate recognition, polygyny, winter, yellowjackets, California, Hawaii
In geographic regions with warm winters, invasive yellowjacket wasp colonies (genus Vespula) often exhibit polygyny (multiple queens) and persist for multiple years, despite these phenomena being rare in the native range. Here, we test the hypothesis that polygyny, caused by foreign queens being accepted into an existing colony, is the result of relaxed nestmate recognition in the invasive range, as has been observed in some supercolonial invasive ants. In bioassays with wild colonies in the field, we found that nestmate discrimination was weak in both invasive (Hawaii) and native (California) populations of Vespula pensylvanica, with significant nestmate discrimination in only ~ 30% of trials. We also found that the diversity and variability of cuticular hydrocarbons, chemical compounds that mediate nestmate recognition, were not reduced in introduced populations, unlike several supercolonial invasive ant species. Our findings suggest that ancestral weak nestmate discrimination behavior of V. pensylvanica may make this species pre-adapted to transition to polygyny and extended colony lifespans when introduced into environments with benign winters that facilitate foreign queens joining existing colonies in late season.