, 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.
Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haematology, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2015), £700,521
Sheena Radford, Mark Harris, Peter Stockley, Alan Berry, Alex O'Neill, Thomas Edwards, Adrian Goldman, Anastasia Zhuravleva, Wellcome Trust (Jan 2015), £443,015
Bill Kunin, EU (Jan 2015), £157,490
John Colyer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Fund (Jan 2015), £40,000
Chris Hassall, Royal Society (Dec 2014), £14,500
Ryan Seipke, Royal Society (Nov 2014), £13,700
Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865
Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £396,565
Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stckley, Sheena Radford, Nic Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £340,937
Les Firbank, Joe Holden, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £210,302
Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Chemistry and Pathology, anatomy and Tumour Biology, Dr Hadwen Trusy (Oct 2014), £194,475
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Martin Stacey and colleagues in Medicine & Health, Pfizer (Oct 2014), £90,453
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Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haemotology, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2014), £281,424
Emmanuel Paci and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £636,759
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Michelle Peckham, Mark Harris, Rao Sivaprasadarao, Eileen Ingham, Nic Stonehouse, Nikita Gamper, Wellcome Trust (Sep 2014), £192,763
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Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094
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