Ropalidia marginata is a primitively eusocial wasp widely distributed in peninsular India. Although solitary females found a small proportion of nests, the vast majority of new nests are founded by small groups of female wasps. In such multiple foundress nests, a single dominant female functions as the queen and lays eggs while the rest function as sterile workers and care for the queen's brood. Being a typical ‘feminine monarchy’ in the haplodiploid insect order Hymenoptera, our attempts to understand the forces that have moulded the evolution of social behavior and altruism in this species have naturally employed inclusive fitness and kin selection theories as guiding frameworks. Although inclusive fitness theory has been quite successful in explaining the high propensity of the wasps to found nests in groups, several features of its social organization suggest that forces other than kin selection may also have played a significant role in the evolution of this species. These features include, lowering of genetic relatedness due to polyandry and serial polygyny, nest foundation by unrelated individuals, acceptance of young non nest-mates, a combination of well-developed nest-mate recognition and lack of intra-colony kin recognition, a combination of meek and docile queens and a decentralized self-organized work force, long reproductive queues with cryptic heir designates and conflict-free queen succession, and in general, extreme intra-colony cooperation and inter-colony conflict. In this talk I will describe these features and discuss whether we should look beyond kin selection to demystify the evolution of social behavior and altruism in Ropalidia marginata.
Raghavendra Gadagkar obtained B.Sc (Hons) and M.Sc. in Zoology from Bangalore University and Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. During the past 25 years he has established an active school of research in the area of Animal Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution. The origin and evolution of cooperation in animals, especially in social insects, such as ants, bees and wasps, is a major goal of his research. By identifying and utilizing crucial elements in India’s biodiversity, he has added a special Indian flavour to his research. Gadagkar is now President of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, and JC Bose National Fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Chairman, Centre for Contemporary Studies, IISc, Honorary Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali and Non-Resident Permanent Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin. He has published over 250 research papers and articles and two books. His book entitled Survival Strategies (Harvard University Press, USA, 1997 and Universities Press, Hyderabad, 1998, since translated into Chinese and Korean), explains recent advances in behavioural ecology and sociobiology to a general audience. His more technical book entitled The Social Biology of Ropalidia (Harvard University Press, USA, 2001) summarizes over twenty years of his research aimed at understanding the evolution of eusociality. His research work has been recognized by a number of awards including the Shanthi Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, B.M.Birla Science Prize, Homi Bhabha Fellowship, B.P. Pal National Environment Fellowship on Biodiversity, the Third World Academy of Sciences award in Biology and H.K.Firodia award, DSc (hc) of the University of Burdwan, West Bengal and Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He is an elected fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Sciences, India, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, USA and, the German National Science Academy Leopoldina.