Shifting foraging strategies in colonies of the social wasp Polybia occidentalis (Hymenoptera, Vespidae)

Research paper by Kenneth J. Howard, Robert L. Jeanne

Indexed on: 07 Dec '04Published on: 07 Dec '04Published in: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology


Social insect colonies can be expected to forage at rates that maximize colony fitness. Foraging at higher rates would increase the rate of worker production, but decrease adult survival. This trade-off has particular significance during the founding stage, when adults lost are not replaced. Prior work has shown that independent-founding wasps rear the first workers rapidly by foraging at high rates. Foraging rates decrease after those individuals pupate, presumably reducing the risk of foundress death. In the swarm-founding wasps, colony-founding units have many workers, making colony death by forager attrition less likely. Do swarm-founding wasps show similar shifts in foraging rates during the founding stage? We measured foraging rates of the swarm-founding wasp, Polybia occidentalis at four stages of colony development. At each stage, foraging rates correlated with the number of larvae present, which, in the founding stages, correlated with the number of cells in the new nest. Thus, foraging rates appear to be demand-driven, with the level of demand in the founding stage set by the size of nest that is constructed. During the founding stage, foraging rates per larva were high initially, suggesting that colonies minimize the development times of larvae early in the founding stage. Later in the stage, foraging rates decreased, which would reduce worker mortality until new workers eclose. This pattern is similar to that shown for independent-founding wasps and likely results from conflicting pressures to maximize colony growth and minimize the risk of colony death by forager attrition.