Foundress number, but not queen size or boldness, predicts colony life-history in wild paper wasps

C.M. Wright, D.N. Fisher, W.V. Nerone, J.L.L. Lichtenstein, E.A. Tibbetts, J.N. Pruitt* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Colonies of social insects exhibit a spectacular variety of life histories. Here, we documented the degree of variation in colony life-history traits, mostly related to productivity, in two species of wild paper wasps. We then tested for associations between colony life-history traits to look for evidence of trade-offs vs. a life-history productivity syndrome (i.e. all colony performance metrics are positively correlated) and examined whether differences in the individual behavioural tendencies of foundresses (Polistes metricus) or the number of cofoundresses (Polistes fuscatus) influenced colony life history. The majority of our measures of colony life history were positively related, indicating no obvious resource allocation trade-offs. Instead, the positive association of traits into a productivity syndrome appears to be driven by differences in queen or microhabitat quality. Productivity syndrome structure differed only marginally between species. Queen boldness and body size were not associated with colony life history in P. metricus. Colonies initiated by multiple P. fuscatus were more productive, and this advantage was approximately proportional to the number of cofoundresses. These findings demonstrate that colony life-history traits can be associated much like individual life-history traits, and the associations seen here convey that differences in overall productivity drive between-colony differences in life history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-29
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

We are indebted to The University of Pittsburgh’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology for permitting us to conduct these studies on their land, and the G. Murray McKinley Research Fund and the Arthur and Barbara Pape Endowment Award research grants provided through the University of Pittsburgh to C.M.W. Funding for this work was provided by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat Canada 150 Chairs Program to J.N.P. Three helpful anonymous reviewers were invaluable in improving the quality of this paper.


  • cooperation
  • eusociality
  • pace-of-life syndrome
  • personality
  • priority effect


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