Behavioral ecology and sociobiology vol:58 issue:1 pages:80-86
Insect societies are sometimes exploited by workers who reproduce selfishly rather than help to rear the queenrsquos offspring. This causes a conflict-of-interest with the mother queen and, frequently, with the non-reproductive workers as well. One mechanism that can reduce conflict is policing, whereby either the queen or other workers aggress egg-laying workers or destroy worker-laid eggs. Here we present the first direct observations of queen and worker policing in natural, unmanipulated colonies of a social insect, the tree wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris. Worker reproduction was common, with workers producing 50% of all male eggs. However, most worker-laid eggs, 91%, were policed within 1 day, whereas most queen-laid eggs, 96%, remained unharmed. The workers were responsible for 51% of all policing events and the queen for 49%. The workers and mother queen also commonly aggressed ovipositing workers, and successfully prevented them from depositing eggs in 14% and 6% of all attempted ovipositions. Hence, both queen policing and worker policing occur and policing acts via two distinct mechanisms: selective destruction of worker-laid eggs and aggression of ovipositing workers. At a general level, our study shows that both centralized and decentralized control can act together to suppress conflict within social groups.