Do paper wasps negotiate over helping effort?
Recent theory and empirical studies of avian biparental systems suggest that animals resolve conflict over parental care via a process of behavioral negotiation or "rules for responding." Less is known, however, about whether negotiation over helping effort occurs in cooperatively breeding animal societies or whether behavioral negotiation requires a relatively large brain. In this study, we tested whether negotiation over help occurs in a social insect, the paper wasp Polistes dominulus, by
... es dominulus, by recording individual responses to both observed and experimentally induced foraging returns by other group members. In our experiments, we manipulated food delivery to the nest in 2 ways: 1) by catching departing foragers and giving them larval food to take back to the nest and 2) by giving larval food directly to wasps on the nest, which they then fed to larvae, so increasing food delivery independently of helper effort. We found no evidence from Experiment 1 that helpers adjusted their own foraging effort according to the foraging effort of other group members. However, when food was provided directly to the nest, wasps did respond by reducing their own foraging effort. One interpretation of this result is that paper wasp helpers adjust their helping effort according to the level of offspring need rather than the work rate of other helpers. Negotiation based on indicators of demand rather than work rate is a likely mechanism to resolve conflict over investment in teams where helpers cannot observe each other's work rate directly, as is commonly the case in insect and vertebrate societies.