Patterns of paternity skew among polyandrous social insects: What can they tell us about the potential for sexual selection?

doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01721.x


Monogamy results in high genetic relatedness among offspring and thus it is generally assumed to be favored by kin selection. Female multiple mating (polyandry) has nevertheless evolved several times in the social Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps), and a substantial amount of work has been conducted to understand its costs and benefits. Relatedness and inclusive fitness benefits are, however, not only influenced by queen mating frequency but also by paternity skew, which is a quantitative measure of paternity biases among the offspring of polyandrous females. We performed a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of paternity skew across polyandrous social Hymenoptera. We found a general and significant negative association between paternity frequency and paternity skew. High paternity skew, which increases relatedness among colony members and thus maximizes inclusive fitness gains, characterized species with low paternity frequency. However, species with highly polyandrous queens had low paternity skew, with paternity equalized among potential sires. Equal paternity shares among fathers are expected to maximize fitness benefits derived from genetic diversity among offspring. We discuss the potential for postcopulatory sexual selection to influence patterns of paternity in social insects, and suggest that sexual selection may have played a key, yet overlooked role in social evolution.

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