Selection for individual recognition and the evolution of polymorphic identity signals inPolistespaper wasps

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Individual recognition (IR) requires individuals to uniquely identify their social partners based on phenotypic variation. Because IR is so specific, distinctive phenotypes that stand out from the crowd facilitate efficient recognition. Over time, the benefits of unique appearances are predicted to produce a correlation between IR and phenotypic variation. Here, we test whether there is an association between elevated phenotypic polymorphism and IR in paper wasps. Previous work has shown that Polistes fuscatus use variable colour patterns for IR. We test whether two less variable wasp species, Polistes dominulus and Polistes metricus, are capable of IR. As predicted, neither species is capable of IR, suggesting that highly variable colour patterns are confined to Polistes species with IR. This association suggests that elevated phenotypic variation in taxa with IR may be the result of selection for identity signals rather than neutral processes. Given that IR is widespread among social taxa, selection for identity signalling may be an underappreciated mechanism for the origin and maintenance of polymorphism.

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