In a recent Biology Letters paper, we ask whether the embattled haplodiploidy hypothesis (the idea that hymenopteran females are more disposed to evolve sterile helpers than diploids are) is affected by sex-specific condition-dependence. In principle, a female bee's reproductive success may depend more strongly on her physical condition than does a male bee's reproductive success: she must face the energetically-demanding challenge of nest founding (and often overwintering), whilst males face only the challenge of succeeding in mating. (This is the opposite way around to the condition-dependent asymmetry familiar in vertebrates, where male reproductive success depends more strongly on condition).
If female quality determines future nest-founding success, altruism that increases sibling quality will be easier to evolve in haplodiploids than in diploids. More generally, we suggest that empirically quantifying the payoffs of altruism in insects has focused largely on sibling quantity (how many brothers and sisters can I raise?), but that effects on sibling quality remain incompletely understood.
Wasps have a serious PR problem. Here's one proposal to win hearts and minds (ignoring the occasional kid with anaphylactic shock):
I'm really grateful for the funding and fantastic support of the National Geographic Society (NGS) for my wasp fieldwork in Panama. This week, Nat Geo posted some coverage of the project online - link here: http://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/animals/2018/03/meet-slow-mo-ninja-discovering-why-wasps-work-others.
For some footage of our beautiful wasps - from our Panama populations, many taken by Pieter Botha - see: https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/180307-wasps-origin-animal-altruism-tiny-backpacks-vin-spd
This week we published a paper in Nature on the evolution of altruism in changeable, unpredictable habitats. Recently, biologists have pointed to a number of striking connections between animal cooperation and environmental stochasticity - particularly in cooperatively-breeding birds. We decided to go back to basics and see what happens to Hamilton's rule in these stochastic environments. I've written a blog post on the background to the study over at the Nature Ecology & Evolution Community site.
When is an termite mound like a leopard? Are they both - in some sense - 'organisms'? If that question makes you (a) annoyed or (b) intrigued, this is the event for you. Dr Heikki Helanterä and I are chairing a symposium on whether social insect biologists should embrace or reject the embattled concept of the 'superorganism'. It'll be at the social insect biology congress (iussi2018.com) in Guarujá, Sao Paulo State, this August. If you're a social insect biologist with strong thoughts either way, get your abstracts submitted! Talk slots are 15 mins.
Abstracts submission is at http://iussi2018.com/node/1014.
Recently-published coverage on the FAPESP website of our fieldwork radio-tagging wasps in Sao Paulo state: http://agencia.fapesp.br/vespa_compartilha_alimento_com_a_vizinhanca/27076/
My PhD has been a series of wasp-hunting forays through French Guiana, Panama, and Brazil - and people sometimes seem a bit surprised at all this South American wasping. "Surely," they say, "there are perfectly good wasps in the UK?" Whilst my wasping loyalties are definitely with the wasps of South America - from the night-dwelling Apoica in the rainforest to the spectacular armadillo wasps of the cerrado - it's true that British wasps aren't to be sniffed at. After all, we have hornets, and even devoted wasp-killing maniacs will concede that they are fairly impressive.
So, to correct the balance a little bit, here are some shots of British wasps (hornets, no less...) from a park in London, which we collected this week for a three-year project being undertaken Daisy (a postdoc in the Sumner lab, probing the very origins of sociality in the wasp world...):
Spectacular photo taken by Alice on our recent field trip to Brazil! Technically, it's a boring beetle, which seems a bit harsh.
May I present the giant metallic ceiba borer, Euchroma gigantea, modelled by Sam:
Adventures of a
Dr Patrick Kennedy, Radford Lab, University of Bristol | Zoology