Examining the “evolution of increased competitive ability” hypothesis in response to parasites and pathogens in the invasive paper wasp Polistes dominula

Fabio Manfredini, Christina Grozinger, Laura Beani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Successful invaders often become established in new ranges by outcompeting native species. The “evolution of increased competitive ability” hypothesis predicts that invasive species are subjected to less predation and parasitization than sympatric native species, and thus can allocate resources from defence and immunity to growth and fecundity, thereby achieving higher fitness. In this study, we examined whether American invasive Polistes dominula paper wasps have reduced immunocompetence. To explore this scenario, we tested their susceptibility towards parasites and pathogens at both the individual (immune defence) and colony levels, i.e. hygienic behaviour (removal of diseased individuals by nestmates). First, we examined the response to the specific coevolved parasite Xenos vesparum (lost after invasion) in terms of individual host susceptibility and hygienic behaviour. Second, we explored the response against general pathogens by quantifying the bacterial clearance in individual wasps after a challenge with Escherichia coli and hygienic behaviour after a challenge with the fungus Beauveria bassiana. Our results show that American invasive P. dominula have a higher response against X. vesparum at the colony level, but at the individual level their susceptibility is not significantly different from conspecifics of the native range. On the other hand, invasive P. dominula display lower response after a challenge with general pathogens at both the individual and colony levels. While supporting the hypothesis of a reduction of immunocompetence towards general pathogens in invasive species, these findings also suggest that the response against coevolved parasites might follow different evolutionary pathways which are not always easily predictable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219–228
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Early online date27 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

The authors are thankful to Dionisio Acosta, an undergraduate research assistant (Penn State Summer Research Opportunity Program) who helped performing the field work in 2010. The authors would also like to thank the USDA-APHIS for releasing the permit P526P-10-02052 which allowed importing paper wasps and Strepsipteran parasites from Italy and Kelli Hoover (Penn State Department of Entomology) who agreed to host these specimens in her quarantine facility. Thanks to Nina Jenkins (Penn State Department of Entomology) for providing us with spores of B. bassiana and with the protocol to perform the fungal challenge. Finally, many thanks to Amro Zayed (Department of Biology, York University), Elina Lastro Niño and Holly Holt (Grozinger Lab) for revising an earlier version of the manuscript and to the three anonymous reviewers whose comments improved the quality of the manuscript. A special thank to Federico Cappa (Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica ‘Leo Pardi’, Università di Firenze) for providing helpful comments on the manuscript and for his valuable contribution in arranging the collections of the Italian specimens.


  • bacterial clearance
  • fungal infection
  • hygienic behaviour
  • invasion biology
  • social insects
  • strepsiptera


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