Conflict and cooperation in insect societies

Vigência: 2013 - 2015

Financiador: CNPq


Cooperation is ubiquitous in the natural world: different genes and cells work together within multicellular organisms, many animals cooperate in societies, different species can engage in interspecific mutualisms and humans cooperate with each other in a myriad number of ways. Yet, cooperation represents a major evolutionary challenge, since uncooperative, selfish individuals would frequently be expected to be at an advantage relative to more cooperative group members. Solving the puzzle of cooperation is considered by some as among the most important outstanding questions in biology and the social sciences at this moment. In recent years, insect societies such as bees and wasps have emerged as a major model system to study the question of what sets the balance between cooperation and conflict in biological systems. The proposed project contains two main topics. The first deals with an instance of the breakdown of cooperation, which we discovered earlier as part of a collaboration with Dr. Denise Alves and Prof. Vera Imperatriz-Fonseca. This concerns the phenomenon of Melipona stingless bee queens which we found can penetrate and parasitize other bee colonies (15) – a finding that drastically changed our understanding of the reproductive life cycle and breeding patterns of stingless bees, and which might potentially be very important for ongoing breeding and selection programmes with stingless bees. In the current project, we will further investigate this intriguing phenomenon using cutting-edge radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking studies. The second part of this project focuses on the cooperative nature of insect societies, and more specifically on the way in which chemical signals emitted by the queen help to drive cooperation and suppress reproduction in the offspring workers.


  • Fábio S. Nascimento - Coordenador
  • Denise de Araujo Alves
  • Tom Wenseleers
  • Ayrton Vollet Neto
  • Ricardo Caliari Oliveira
  • Cintia Akemi Oi


  • Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão Preto - USP
  • Catholic University Leuven