Reproduction in cooperative animal groups is often dominated by one or a few individuals, with the remaining group members relegated to non-reproductive helping roles. This reproductive skew can evolve if helpers receive fitness benefits such as potential future inheritance of the breeding position, but the mechanisms by which inheritance is determined are not well resolved. Polistes paper wasps form highly reproductively skewed groups and inheritance of the breeding position is likely to play a key role in the maintenance of this social structure, making them excellent models for the processes by which simple societies are maintained. Reproductive succession is thought to be determined via an age-based convention in some Polistes species, but there is also evidence for contest-based succession systems in which the replacement queen uses physical aggression to overpower and thereby subordinate her nestmates. Here we provide evidence that queen succession in colonies of the European paper wasp Polistes dominula is determined via convention rather than contest, with little disruption to the colony’s social functioning. We use queen removal experiments and fine-scale behavioral analyses to confirm that age is a strong predictor of succession, and that behavioral responses to queen removal are restricted to the oldest individuals rather than being experienced equally across the group. We provide the most comprehensive and detailed experimental analysis on the dynamics of breeder succession in a cooperatively breeding invertebrate to date, thereby shedding light on the mechanisms by which animal societies are able to maintain cohesion in the face of within-group conflict.
Data pertain to behavioral observations of early-season Polistes dominula nests, collected near Florence, Italy and filmed in laboratory conditions at the University of Florence. Footage was annotated by an observer using BORIS software as described in Taylor et al and the attached README file, and the resulting raw annotation files are provided here, while an accompanying Excel sheet provides metadata for each annotation file.
Full methodology for the collection and rearing of wasps is provided in Taylor et al.
A README file is attached, and an excel sheet with metadata for each set of observation is included in the uploaded data. This sheet includes any videos for which data are missing, indicated by a row of blanks where the metadata would otherwise be.