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article imageSecret lives of wasps revealed by biologists

By Tim Sandle     Jan 26, 2017 in Science
New social patterns relating to the social behaviors of wasps have been revealed. Biologists have found that wasps have trading partners and compete for the 'best trade deals.
Despite being well-studied there remains a lot to learn about wasps and the social interactions that the insects undertake. University of Sussex researchers have identified new social behaviors which suggest parallels with free market economics.
This takes the form of the rules of 'supply and demand' and this social construct has been applied to paper wasps. Within wasp communities, so-termed 'helper wasps' raise offspring of dominant breeders in small social groups. In return they are allowed to stay in the nest.
Paper wasps are less than one inch long wasps. They derive their name from the gathering of fibers from dead wood and plant stems. These are mixed with saliva and used to construct water-resistant nests.
For the study, the researchers, working in southern Spain, monitored 1,500 paper wasps over a three year period and observed their social behavior. The wasps lived in 43 separate nests, located along a cactus hedge.
When the number of nest spots and nesting partners was increased, the helper wasps were found to provide less help to the dominant breeders, and instead sought out alternative nesting sites. This led to the behavior of the dominant wasps altering and they engaged in competitive activities in an attempt to provide the best ‘deal’ to the helper wasps. The deal involved allowing the helper wasps to work less hard, which was designed to persuade the helper wasps to remain in a particular nest.
Previous research had attempted to explain variations in helper wasp activity as a consequence of genetics. The new research argues that social behavior and variations to environmental circumstance are the trigger for the different responses of both helper and dominant wasps. This, according to lead scientist, Dr Lena Grinsted resembles supply and demand market economics.
In a statement she remarks: "our findings reveal intriguing parallels between wasp populations and our own business world: a bad deal is better than no deal, so when competition increases so does the risk that you have to accept a lower price for what you offer. Market forces can clearly affect trade agreements in nature.”
The application of human concepts of economics to insects has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The study title is “Market forces influence helping behavior in cooperatively breeding paper wasps.”
More about Wasps, paper wasps, Economics, Trading, Nature
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