Polistes wasps: a model genus for social evolution in the genomic era
Amy L. Toth, Amy L. Toth
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, USA; Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, USA
Few study systems have provided more empirical fuel for animal behavior and social theory than Polistes paper wasps. These wasps live in conspicuous, open colonies consisting of relatively few large, charismatic individuals; their behavior exhibits an intriguing mix of conflict and cooperation, representing an “intermediate” form of sociality sometimes called “primitive eusociality”. Polistes social behavior has inspired inquiry both into mechanistic hypotheses about the evolution of sociality from underlying phenotypic plasticity (e.g. “groundplan hypotheses”) as well as provided key tests of the predictions of kin selection theory. In recent years with the advent of the genomic era, these wasps have also become tractable genetic and genomic model systems. We have conducted a combination of sequencing-based approaches (including de novo whole genome sequencing, transcriptomic comparisons, and epigenetics) and experimental studies involving manipulations of genetic elements (through RNA-interference and pharmacological treatments) and environmental characters (such as the nutritional and social environment) on several species of Polistes wasps. I will provide an overview of the insights that have been gleaned by integrating hypothesis-driven genomic studies on naturally-occurring behavior in Polistes wasps with hypotheses related to the evolution of sociality. I will also discuss new avenues for extending genomic studies of social wasps in a comparative framework.