Delayed dispersal as a potential route to cooperative breeding in ambrosia beetles

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Xyleborini are a species-rich tribe of ambrosia beetles, which are haplodiploid and typically mate among siblings within their natal brood chamber. Several characteristics of this tribe would predict the evolution of higher levels of sociality: high genetic relatedness within galleries due to inbreeding, high costs of dispersal and the potential benefit of cooperation in brood care within the natal gallery (e.g. by fungus gardening, gallery extension, offspring feeding and cleaning). However, information on the social system of these beetles is very limited. We examined the potential for cooperative breeding in Xyleborinus saxeseni by monitoring dispersal in relation to brood size and composition. Results show that adult female offspring delay dispersal despite dispersal opportunities, and apparently some females never disperse. The females' decision to stay seems to depend on the presence of eggs and dependent siblings. We found no indication that female offspring reproduce in their natal gallery, as colonies with many mature daughters do not contain more eggs than those with few or no daughters. There is a significant positive relationship between the number of females present and the number of dependent siblings (but not eggs), which suggests that cooperative brood care of female offspring raises colony productivity by improving survival rates of immatures. Our results suggest that cooperative breeding is likely to occur in X. saxeseni and possibly other xyleborine species. We argue that a closer look at sociality within this tribe may yield important information on the factors determining the evolution of cooperative breeding and advanced social organization.

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