Greeff, Jaco M., Kjellberg, Finn

Local mate competition (LMC) favours female biased clutch sex ratios because it reduces competition between brothers and provides extra mating opportunities for sons. Fig wasps seem to fit LMC model assumptions and lay female-biased sex ratios as predicted. These female biased sex ratios increase fitness greatly. In line with predictions, their sex ratios become less female-biased as the number of mothers laying in the same fig increases. However, this variation results in comparatively small fitness benefits compared to just biased ratios and data suggest substantial mismatches with LMC theory. The mismatches are due to several factors. (1) Multiple foundresses typically lay too many daughters. (2) Single foundress sex ratios are explained by sequential oviposition and ladies-last models. (3) Mortality that typically exceeds 10% may decouple the link between primary sex ratios, the focus of model predictions, and secondary sex ratios of adult wasps that are counted by researchers. (4) Model assumptions are frequently violated: (a) clutch sizes are unequal, (b) oviposition may not be simultaneous (c) cryptic/multiple wasp species inhabit the same host, (d) foundress numbers are systematically undercounted, (e) inbreeding coefficient calculations are inaccurate, and (f) male wasps sometimes disperse. These data and calculations suggest that alternative explanations must be considered seriously. Substantial data show that wasps typically lay most of their male eggs first followed by mostly female eggs require a new approach. These “slope” strategies result in more accurate sex ratios that are automatically adjusted to foundress number, own and relative clutch sizes and to sequential clutches. This effect will alter sex ratios in all species once the egg capacity of a fig is crossed or when interference reduces clutch sizes. In addition to this passive response, the females of about half the studied species have a conditional response that reduces female bias under higher foundress numbers by laying more sons. Therefore, wasps seem to use a very simple strategy that increases their fitness. Natural selection could have optimized parameters of the slope strategy and possibly the existence of the slope strategy itself. Variation in the slope strategy that is the result of natural selection is adaptive. Research should therefore focus on quantifying variables of this slope strategy. Currently, it is unclear how much of the variation is adaptive as opposed to being coincidental by-products.