Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Behaviourally specialized foragers are less efficient and live shorter lives than generalists in wasp colonies

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posted on 2021-11-02, 20:51 authored by D Santoro, Stephen HartleyStephen Hartley, Philip LesterPhilip Lester
A widely held assumption in ecology is that specialists are more efficient than generalists. However, empirical evidence for this fundamental assumption is surprisingly scarce and often contradictory. Theoretically, the evolution of alternative life history strategies is underpinned by a trade-off between activity levels and survival. We investigated the consequences of specialization in a foraging context, by comparing the performance and longevity of closely related individuals in a social insect, the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). Using radio-frequency identification technology, we monitored the lifetime foraging activity of individual wasps from three colonies kept under natural foraging conditions. Returning foragers were video-recorded as they passed the nest entrance so that their foraging load could be assessed. There were substantial differences in foraging activity and survival within and between colonies. At the colony level, foraging specialization was weak. Yet, workers within each nest demonstrated a remarkable range of foraging specialization levels (defined as the degree of overlap between individual and colony-level task allocation) and efficiencies (defined by the number of successful trips and trip duration). We found that specialist foragers were less efficient than generalist siblings within the same colony. Behavioural specialists accomplished fewer successful trips per foraging day, and their trips were typically relatively longer. Specialized foragers also showed reduced life expectancy. The mortality risk was higher for individuals spending relatively more time in the field, yet we found no link between the level of specialization and relative field exposure. Our extensive dataset of unprecedented detail provides strong empirical evidence that behavioural specialization is not associated with a better lifetime performance, on the contrary, the opposite appears true for the common wasp. We also show that the survival of genetically similar individuals can be linked to life-long differences in behaviour according to classical life-history theory predictions.


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Santoro, D., Hartley, S. & Lester, P. J. (2019). Behaviourally specialized foragers are less efficient and live shorter lives than generalists in wasp colonies. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 5366-.

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Scientific Reports





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Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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