Workers of social Hymenoptera can usually produce male offspring, but rarely do so in the presence of a queen despite the potential individual fitness benefit. Various mechanisms have been hypothesized to regulate worker reproduction, including avoiding the colony‐level cost of worker reproduction. However, firm quantitative evidence is lacking to support that hypothesis. Here, we accurately quantified this cost by studying an ant species (Diacamma sp.) in which worker reproduction is rare in the presence of the gamergate (the functional queen). A series of experiments to manipulate worker–gamergate contact revealed that short‐term brood‐production efficiency is not changed by the presence of worker reproduction. However, when workers reproduce, their average life span is reduced to between 74% and 88% of that in the absence of reproduction, indicating a long‐term cost to the colony. In theory, this cost can explain the policing of worker reproduction under a queen‐single mating system, but the cost does not appear to be high enough to stop worker reproduction. When contact with the gamergate is lost, it is only the nonreproductive workers whose life span was reduced; the reproductive workers lived as long as nonorphaned workers. We suggest that an increased workload can account for the reduction in life span better than a trade‐off between reproduction and longevity.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
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