Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Aggression prevents the better part of valour ... in fig wasps

30th November 2011

Male fig wasps display a unique behaviour - they team up to help pregnant females, regardless of whether they have mated themselves.

Published online in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, 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.


Recent Grants

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865

Paul Knox, EU (Oct 2014), £167,229

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £371,598

Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £313,463

Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Aug 2014), £355,253

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094

Darren Tomlinson, Mike McPherson, Technology Strategy Board (Aug 2014), £98,665

Peter Henderson, Leverhulme Trust (Aug 2014), £15,222

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Peter Stockley, Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Jul 2014), £455,787

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Ryan Seipke, British Society Antimicrobial Chemistry (Jun 2014), £11,960

John Trinick, BHF (Jun 2014), £222,614

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

Christine Foyer, Royal Society (May 2014), £24,000

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Medimmune Ltd (Apr 2014), £337,661

Peter Stockley, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £251,019

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £146,596

Andrew Macdonald, Kidney Research Fund UK (Apr 2014), £127,237

Elwyn Isaac, DEFRA (Apr 2014), £126,512

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in School of Design), Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £114,350

Paul Millner, Peter Stockley, Darren Tomlinson, YCR (Apr 2014), £95,874

Carrie Ferguson, Karen Birch, Shaunna Burke, Heart Research UK (Apr 2014), £60,140

Tim Benton, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £24,969

Bill Kunin, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £21,244

Dave Westhead, MRC (Apr 2014), £18,304

Brendan Davies, BBSRC (Mar 2014), £451,829

Jim Deuchars, MRC (Mar 2014), £300,000

Urwin, Howard Atkinson, British Potato Council (Mar 2014), £69,953

Adam Kupinski, Children with Cancer (Mar 2014), £50,000

Anastasia Zhuravleva, Royal Society (Mar 2014), £14,973

Urwin, Howard Atkinson, Agriculture & Horticulture Develpmnt Brd (Mar 2014), £13,990

Alison Baker, Steve Baldwin, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £403,439

Sarah Zylinski, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £355,869

Dave Lewis, Nigel Hooper, Tony Turner, Hugh Pearson, James Duce, Alzheimer's Society (Feb 2014), £29,871

Ronaldo Ichyama, Samit Chakrabarty, International Spinal Research Trust (Jan 2014), £304,600

Brendan Davies, BBSRC/Bayer Crop Science SA-NV (Jan 2014), £470,053

Adrian Goldman, Steve Baldwin, Stephen Muench, Thomas Edwards, Arwen Pearson , BBSRC (Jan 2014), £467,103

Stefan Kepinski, BBSRC (Jan 2014), £359,269

Elwyn Isaac, EU (Jan 2014), £179,445

Dave Westhead, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Jan 2014), £105,937

Eileen Ingham, Joanne Tipper, Depuy International Ltd (Jan 2014), £48,121

John Barr, Thomas Edwards, MRC (Dec 2013), £469,505

Alex O'Neill, MRC (Dec 2013), £349,017

Tim Benton, NERC (Dec 2013), £31,422

Darren Tomlinson, Yorkshire Cancer Research (Nov 2013), £142,334

Nikita Gamper, MRC (Nov 2013), £336,563

Keith Hamer, Alison Dunn, NERC (Nov 2013), £47,233

Recent News

FBS team shows how statins can directly affect the cardiac muscle cell

16th October 2014

New article published in PLOS ONE by Dr Sarah Calaghan and co-workers.

more

£11 million funding for doctoral training partnership

3rd October 2014

The universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield have been chosen to help spearhead the training of the next generation of biological scientists

more

Professor Sheena Radford Lecture

2nd October 2014

Sir Alan Langlands is hosting a special event in honour of Professor Sheena Radford's election as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

more

The University of Leeds is investing in 250 new academic fellowships.

30th September 2014

Are you one of the 250 Great Minds we are looking for?

more

FBS Professor discovers a novel role for platelets

29th September 2014

New article published in PLOS ONE Journal by Prof Stuart Egginton - Platelets and angiogenesis: a differential effect

more

Pharmacology prize for UG student

23rd September 2014

Congratulations to Katie Musialowski, BSc Pharmacology (International), who has been awarded the BSc Pharmacology Prize 2014 by the British Pharmacological Society.

more

Guest lecture from Leeds Biochemistry alumnus, Dr Nicholas Lydon

2nd September 2014

Leeds University alumnus Dr Nicholas Lydon, FRS, will visit the University on Monday 29 September to deliver a guest lecture.

more

Healthy Brains at Leeds: Demystifying Dementia event

29th August 2014

Healthy Brains at Leeds: Demystifying Dementia event

more

‘Tickling’ your ear could be good for your heart

20th August 2014

Stimulating nerves in your ear could improve the health of your heart, researchers have discovered.

more

Triathlon win for Alistair Brownlee

28th July 2014

Congratulations to Leeds alumni Alistair and Jonny Brownlee who won a gold and silver medal respectively in the Triathlon at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

more

Impact Stories

Professor Paul Knox has undertaken research into the structure and function of plant cell walls over a number of years.
more

Research by Dr Keith Hamer on the foraging and breeding ecology has had impact in the understanding of interactions between seabirds and fisheries.
more

Dr Simon Goodman has investigated the disease risks to the native Galapagos fauna.
more

Professor Ian Chopra and Dr Alex O'Neill have shown that high levels of FA prevent the development of resistant bacteria.
more

All impact stories