Radio-Tagging Technology Reveals Extreme Nest-Drifting Behavior in a Eusocial Insect

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Kin-selection theory underlies our basic understanding of social evolution [1, 2]. Nest drifting in eusocial insects (where workers move between nests) presents a challenge to this paradigm, since a worker should remain as a helper on her natal colony, rather than visit other colonies to which she is less closely related. Here we reveal nest drifting as a strategy by which workers may maximize their indirect fitness by helping on several related nests, preferring those where the marginal return from their help is greatest. By using a novel monitoring technique, radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging, we provide the first accurate estimate of drifting in a eusocial insect: 56% of females drifted in a natural population of the eusocial paper wasp Polistes canadensis, exceeding previous records of drifting in natural populations by more than 30-fold. We demonstrate that drifting cannot be explained through social parasitism, queen succession, mistakes in nest identity, or methodological bias. Instead, workers appear to gain indirect fitness benefits by helping on several related colonies in a viscous population structure. The potential importance of this strategy as a component of the kin-selected benefits for a social insect worker has previously been overlooked because of methodological difficulties in quantifying and studying drifting. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Sumner, S., Lucas, E., Barker, J., & Isaac, N. (2007). Radio-Tagging Technology Reveals Extreme Nest-Drifting Behavior in a Eusocial Insect. Current Biology, 17(2), 140–145.

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