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Between-year variation in population sex ratio increases with complexity of the breeding system in Hymenoptera.
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While adaptive adjustment of sex ratio in the function of colony kin structure and food availability commonly occurs in social Hymenoptera, long-term studies have revealed substantial unexplained between-year variation in sex ratio at the population level. In order to identify factors that contribute to increased between-year variation in population sex ratio, we conducted a comparative analysis across 47 Hymenoptera species differing in their breeding system. We found that between-year variation in population sex ratio steadily increased as one moved from solitary species, to primitively eusocial species, to single-queen eusocial species, to multiple-queen eusocial species. Specifically, between-year variation in population sex ratio was low (6.6% of total possible variation) in solitary species, which is consistent with the view that in solitary species, sex ratio can vary only in response to fluctuations in ecological factors such as food availability. In contrast, we found significantly higher (19.5%) between-year variation in population sex ratio in multiple-queen eusocial species, which supports the view that in these species, sex ratio can also fluctuate in response to temporal changes in social factors such as queen number and queen-worker control over sex ratio, as well as factors influencing caste determination. The simultaneous adjustment of sex ratio in response to temporal fluctuations in ecological and social factors seems to preclude the existence of a single sex ratio optimum. The absence of such an optimum may reflect an additional cost associated with the evolution of complex breeding systems in Hymenoptera societies.
social insects, sex allocation, food availability, colony kin structure, worker control versus queen control, nonadaptive pattern
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