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

of Central Florida, tested the paternity of each insect to investigate whether any of the males in a colony fathered more queens than workers.

Similar to human paternity tests, comparing DNA sequences of two yellow jackets can show if one is related to another. Goodisman determined the genetic makeup of each of the queens male mates. He then determined what proportion of workers and new queens each male mate sired.

The results from the DNA fingerprinting showed that males fathered an equal number of queens and workers in a colony, allowing Goodisman to believe there is no conflict within a colony because of multiple mating.

Instead of intense competition, yellow jackets seem to exhibit extreme cooperative and helping behaviors, noted Goodisman. Results of this study were published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Since Goodisman found no disadvantage to having mixed families in the colony, he believed there must be a benefit to the colony for each queen having multiple partners.

Goodisman, Hoffman and Kovacs compared the number of times a yellow jacket queen mated to how successful her colony was. Success was judged based on the number of worker and queen cells in the nest. The findings of this study were published in the journal Evolution.

No correlation was found between the number of mates and the number of worker cells. However, queens that effectively mated four or more times produced significantly more queen cells in the comb than queens that effectively mated fewer than four times. Colonies typically survive only one year, so the number of queens produced at the end of the season represents the entire reproductive output of the colony and, by extension, the original queen. Only inseminated queens survive the winter and emerge in the spring. Thus, Goodisman found that the benefit to multiple mating is that the queens colony is more successful.

Another avenue of Goodismans research is to in
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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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