, the study confirms that placid male pollinator fig wasps work together to chew an escape tunnel for their females, before crawling back into the fig to die - the non-pollinating variety are too busy fighting each other to help.
"Male insects can cooperate to attract the attention of females or to ensure that they are successful in mating, but I don't know of any other male insects which exhibit post-mating teamwork like this," says Dr Steve Compton from the Faculty of Biological Sciences.
Fig trees are vital for rainforest ecosystems. Producing fruit all year, more birds and animals feed on them than on any other plant in the rainforest. There are more than 850 types of fig tree, each pollinated by a single uniquely adapted type of fig wasp.
The research team examined some 60,000 individual fig flowers in the laboratory, each containing either pollinating fig wasps or parasitic fig wasps. All figs contained many females but alongside these, some contained a single male and others contained several males.
The hatched young of both types mate with each other before the females attempt to escape, leaving the males to die inside the fig. "Neither type of fig wasp female is strong enough to make their own way out, so they need help from the males to do this," says Dr Compton.
Escape rates for pollinator wasps were consistently high and increased when more males were present. When only one parasitic fig wasp was present, it was just as successful as the pollinators in chewing an escape route after mating, but when several males were present, the success rates plummeted.
The study also suggests that the ability of males to cooperate is hampered by innate aggression. Of the two groups of fig wasps - those that pollinate fig trees and non-pollinators, which are parasites of the tree - only the parasitic wasps fight more for the right to mate with females, and this group were far less able to work together.
"It would seem that male parasitic fig wasps are unable to switch off the hard-wired aggression needed to successfully mate to cooperate with each other, even when their genetic investment is at stake," says Dr Compton. "Pollinators' teamwork may be prompted because of the likelihood of genetic connection to the mated females, but the parasitic fig wasps were in the same situation."
Dr Compton believes the successful collaboration between the pollinating male fig wasps studied is likely to be normal for all pollinator fig wasps. He hopes to study a highly aggressive species of pollinators, where males fight intensely, often to death. "This will shed light on whether the cooperation is present in all pollinators, or if aggressive behaviour is too difficult to switch off after mating," he says.
Darren Tomlinson, Michelle Peckham, Megan Wright, BBSRC (Jun 2018), £150,443
Simon Walker, Royal Society (Jun 2018), £337,601
Tom Thirkell, N8 Agrifood (Jun 2018), £14,870
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Graham Askew with colleagues in Hull and Liverpool, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £150,498
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson & Richard Foster, Kidney Research UK (Apr 2018), £82,821
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000