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Social isolation prevents the development of individual face recognition in paper wasps

Tibbetts, Elizabeth A., Desjardins, Erica, Kou, Nora, Wellman, Laurel
Animal behaviour 2019 v.152 pp. 71-77
Polistes fuscatus, adults, eclosion, face, learning, paper wasps, pupation, rearing, social behavior, social environment
Much work has shown that social isolation has lasting negative effects on adult social interactions, but less is known about precisely how and why isolation alters social behaviour. One way isolation may alter social behaviour is by interfering with the development of effective communication. Here, we test how social isolation influences individual recognition, a key aspect of social communication in Polistes fuscatus paper wasps. Polistes fuscatus reared in a typical social environment learn and remember the unique faces of conspecifics during social interactions. Typical P. fuscatus use individual face recognition to minimize conflict and stabilize social interactions. As wasps are adept face learners, they also readily learn to discriminate between wasp face images during training. Here, we show that social isolation had dramatic effects on recognition. We isolated wasps for 6 days after eclosion from pupation, then tested them for face recognition in social and nonsocial contexts. Isolated wasps did not learn and remember other individuals during social interactions. Furthermore, isolated wasps did not learn to discriminate between wasp face images during training. Therefore, social experience with conspecifics is essential for the development of individual recognition and face learning in paper wasps. Many aspects of wasp behaviour develop rapidly with little experience required. However, complex social interactions like individual recognition require social experience with conspecifics.