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Research uncovers the social dynamics of yellow jackets
Date:2/18/2008

Michael Goodisman could be called the Maury Povich of the yellow jacket world. In his laboratory, Goodisman determines the paternity of yellow jackets to study family dynamics within a colony. Even though only one family lives within a colony, each yellow jacket queen mates with several males, creating a complex family tree.

Social insects such as yellow jackets have been described as one of the greatest achievements of evolution because of the incredible cooperative nature of their societies, said Goodisman, an assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technologys School of Biology. I wanted to know why the females would risk this cooperative nature by having multiple partners.

Mating with multiple partners can also lead to disease and wasted time and energy, according to Goodisman. Plus, each new yellow jacket has siblings and half-siblings during the same breeding season, allowing for potential conflict and infighting between the subfamilies.

Weird things can start happening within families, so we looked to see if there was any evidence of this kind of selfish behavior within the colony, explained Goodisman, whose projects are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Goodisman wondered if yellow jacket workers would kill new queens that had a different father or if they were more likely to turn their sister larvae into reproducing queens instead of sterile workers. Turning a worker into a queen is easier than it seems it simply requires a comb nest with larger holes. The larger holes signal to the workers to feed the developing larvae different food, resulting in queens.

You can actually take developing workers and if theyre young enough, put them into queen cells and they will develop into queens, explained Goodisman.

Goodisman, graduate student Jennifer Kovacs and Eric Hoffman, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia Tech who is now an assistant professor at the University
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Contact: Abby Vogel
avogel@gatech.edu
404-385-3364
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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