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The rise and fall of transactional skew theory in the model genus Polistes

Peter Nonacs
Annales Zoologici Fennici
Vol. 43, No. 5/6, Polistes wasps: the emergence of a model genus (2006), pp. 443-455
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23736753
Page Count: 13
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The rise and fall of transactional skew theory in the model genus Polistes
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Abstract

Transactional Skew (TS) theory predicts that cooperative breeding associations can be adaptive for all group members as long as they properly allocate reproduction within a social contract. Polistes wasps have been the preeminent model genus for testing TS models. Most tests have focused on either the patterns of skew or on patterns of aggression between wasps, which has been assumed to set skew. However, the totality of evidence suggests that aggression (observed as darts, lunges and bites) has no connection to establishing reproductive skew. Although some patterns of reproductive skew support TS theory, most of the reproductive data are either non-supportive or inconclusive relative to the models. Of particular significance are recent findings of high skew associations between distantly or unrelated wasps when TS theory strongly predicts skew should be low. A possible evolutionary explanation for the failure of TS models is derived through a simple model. Although the TS strategy optimizes fitness, its relative advantage over a much simpler conventional rule for group formation is never greater than 3% and often less. Therefore, even small costs in evolving the cognitive mechanisms needed to form social contracts may preclude their appearance. Although TS theory may have failed in Polistes, reproductive skew is now a well-described phenomenon. Finding new viable explanations for reproductive skew and extending the theory to skews in non-reproductive contexts will maintain Polistes in its role as a model taxonomic group in the study of the evolution of social behavior.

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