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Grappling with a Puzzle

Both polygyny and polyandry constitute Hamilton’s touchstone puzzle. He addressed this puzzle by looking into the behavioral, biological and social mechanisms that would increase the degree of relatedness in the colony, the r in his formula. Already in the 1964 paper, Hamilton’s surmised that one way to increase the degree of relatedness in the case of polygynyc associations was inbreeding and that inbreeding depended on the high viscosity of wasp population structure. He wrote: “However, it does seem necessary to invoke at least a mild inbreeding if we are to explain some of the phenomena of the social insects - and indeed of animal sociability in general - by means of this theory. The type of inbreeding which we have in mind is that which results from a high viscosity of population or from its actual subdivision into small quasi-endogamous groups” (Hamilton 1964b, 65).

Although puzzling, social wasps offered Hamilton unique opportunities for observation and experimentation. “There is no doubt that in [it is] a very unusual biological situation and with a species which is highly social in a rather flexible and human way, it offers great possibilities for observation and experiment.” (ZIX42/1/13, Notebook 1, November 22, 1963). This is why, in his first trip to Brazil, Hamilton engaged in numerous observations and some attempts to experiment on nests of both Polistinae and Polibinae, with the hope to test whether his ideas about inbreeding and viscosity could actually work.

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