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Elite workers and the colony-level pattern of labor division in the yellowjacket wasp, Vespula germanica

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Measurements of carbohydrate foraging behavior of Vespula germanica yellowjackets show that the distribution of the number of foragers over the number of trips is highly skewed with a few foragers making a disproportionate number of trips. We tested several empirical models based on different biological assumptions to see which model best described the distribution. For all periods of observation, the data are well fitted by a straight line on a log-log plot. This fit indicates that the distribution of labor is non-increasing monotonic; i.e. continually decreasing, and follows a power law. Stochasticity and self-organization are two possible explanations for the power law distribution. As an alternative approach, cluster analysis of various foraging characteristics of individual foragers clearly separated foragers into two groups and is consistent with a bimodal model for the division of foraging labor. Based on these cluster results, we operationally defined workers as either 'elite' or 'non-elite'. We found that elite foragers are not more likely than non-elites to be task specialists. The data show that workers develop into elites but do not support the hypothesis of self-reinforcement as the mechanism.


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