Candidate genes for cooperation and aggression in the social wasp Polistes dominula

Fabio Manfredini, Mark Brown, Amy L. Toth

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Cooperation and aggression are ubiquitous in social groups, and the genetic mechanisms underlying these behaviours are of great interest for understanding how social group formation is regulated and how it evolves. In this study, we used a candidate gene approach to investigate the patterns of expression of key genes for cooperation and aggression in the brain of a primitively eusocial wasp, Polistes dominula, during colony founding, when multiple foundresses can join the same nest and establish subtle hierarchies of dominance. We used a comparative approach to select candidate genes for cooperation and aggression looking at two previously published studies on global gene expression in wasps and ants. We tested the expression of these genes in P. dominula wasps that were either displaying aggressive behaviour (dominant and single foundresses) or cooperation (subordinate foundresses and workers) towards nestmates. One gene in particular, the egg yolk protein vitellogenin, known for its reproductive role in insects, displayed patterns of expression that strongly matched wasp social rank. We characterize the genomic context of vitellogenin by building a head co-expression gene network for P. dominula, and we discuss a potential role for vitellogenin as a mediator of social interactions in wasps.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-463
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number5
Early online date27 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Amy Geffre for assistance with field work and experimental setup, and for providing all kinds of support for FM wasp-related work at ISU. We would also like to thank Ali Berens and Erin McCall for valuable feedback on rearing wasp colonies at ISU. Many thanks also to Jeanne Serb for providing support during the molecular work at ISU and Emilie Snell-Rood for
guidance on collecting wasp colonies at the University of Minnesota. This work was supported by a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-15 IIF-625487).


  • Wasp foundress
  • Dominance behaviour
  • Social aggression
  • Vitellogenin
  • Gene co-expression network.


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