Resource limitation, intragroup aggression, and brain neuropeptide expression in a social wasp

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Walton, Alexander
Toth, Amy
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Toth, Amy
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1. Nourishment can have profound effects on social behavior, including aggressive interactions between individuals. The prevailing theoretical and empirical understanding is that when nutritional resources are limited, inter-individual competition and aggression will increase. Alternatively, studies from some group-living species suggest limited nutrition can lead to increased cooperation, including by a reduction in inter-individual aggression. Thus, a general model for understanding how and why nutritional resource limitation affects aggressive behavior remains elusive.

2. We suggest that the link between nourishment and future reproductive potential may be a key missing element of models that predict how nutritional resource availability affects interindividual aggression in social animals.

3. We investigated how nourishment influenced intra-colony aggression and its molecular correlates in colonies of the social paper wasp Polistes fuscatus, which workers that maintain flexible reproductive potential as adults. We subjected colonies to either a high or low feeding treatment, and examined subsequent effects on behavior, physiology, and brain gene expression.

4. We found that nutritional restriction reduced aggressive interactions, thus resource limitation was linked to reduced intragroup conflict. Thus, individual worker paper wasps appear to have the capacity to adjust their behavior (e.g., reduced aggression) in response to nutritional stress; this suggests they may invest nutritional resources in the colony when resources are limiting, and in the self (and possible future reproduction) when resources are abundant.

5. Differential brain gene expression results implicate two well-known neuropeptides associated with aggression and/or nutrient signaling across taxa, Tachykinin and Neuropeptide-F, as possible mediators of nutritionally-dependent intra-colony aggression. This adds to a growing understanding that deeply conserved genes associated with core, conserved behaviors such as feeding and aggression in solitary insects can play a role in the regulation of social plasticity in more highly social species.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Walton, Alexander, and Amy L. Toth. "Resource limitation, intragroup aggression, and brain neuropeptide expression in a social wasp." Functional Ecology (2021), which has been published in final form at doi:10.1111/1365-2435.13895. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.