Context-dependent Nestmate Discrimination in the Paper Wasp, Polistes Dominulus: A Critical Test of the Optimal Acceptance Threshold Model

Anim Behav. 1998 Aug;56(2):449-458. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1998.0778.


e present evidence that nestmate discrimination in the eusocial paper wasp, Polistes dominulus, is context dependent. We compared aggression levels between nestmates and non-nestmates in dyads consisting of a pair of either nestmates or non-nestmates, and triads consisting of either three nestmates, three non-nestmates, or two nestmates and a non-nestmate. In 130 of the 237 total trials, a nest fragment (containing both brood and eggs) from the nest of some, all or none of the interactants was placed into the interaction arena. Polistes dominulus workers recognized and discriminated nestmates from non-nestmates, familiar from unfamiliar nest material and neighbours from non-neighbours. These findings suggest that nestmate and neighbour discrimination are context dependent: discrimination occurs when either the presence of a nestmate or a familiar nest fragment indicate the proximity of the colony. The context-dependent variation in aggression levels is best described by multiple, context-dependent shifts in an acceptance threshold. Thus this study provides the most extensive, critical support yet obtained for Reeve's (1989, American Naturalist, 133, 407-435) optimal acceptance threshold model. Copyright 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour