Eusociality and Cooperation

Abstract

Ants, termites and many species of bees and wasps form tightly integrated social groups in which permanently nonreproducing workers help rear the offspring of a few fertile individuals, the queens and males. Such societies with marked reproductive division of labour are called eusocial. The evolution of eusociality puzzled Darwin: How could workers pass on their characteristics to the next generation if they did not reproduce? Kin selection, the indirect transmission of genes through relatives, is the key process explaining the evolution and maintenance of permanently nonreproducing workers. Overall, eusociality evolved in life‐long associations of monogamous parents and offspring, which jointly exploit and defend common resources. Robust and efficient division of labour contributes to the great ecological success of eusocial species. Yet, despite high levels of integration, conflicts among individuals are still common in eusocial groups, and several sophisticated mechanisms have evolved to maintain social cohesion.

Key Concepts

  • Eusociality is characterised by reproductive division of labour, cooperative brood care and overlap of generations.
  • The hallmark of eusociality is the presence of a caste that is permanently committed to a nonreproductive helper role.
  • Eusociality confers great ecological success, but has a scattered taxonomic distribution.
  • Kin selection is the key process explaining the evolution of permanently nonreproducing helpers.
  • Eusociality evolved in groups of highly related individuals, typically comprising the offspring of a monogamous pair.
  • Eusociality is linked with division of labour, which is sometimes associated with morphological castes.
  • The allocation of workers to tasks is a self‐organising process that occurs without central control and emerges from local interactions.
  • In social insects, division of labour is remarkably robust and flexible to cope with unpredictable changes in the environment.
  • Individuals in animal societies are not clones; they have partially divergent genetic interests, which can lead to various forms of conflicts.
  • Some types of conflicts are controlled by social means such as bribing, coercion or punishment.

Keywords: eusociality; social insects; cooperative breeding; cooperation; altruism

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Further Reading

Bourke AFG and Franks NR (1995) Social Evolution in Ants. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bourke AFG (2011) Principles of Social Evolution. Oxford Series in Ecology and Evolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Crozier RH and Pamilo P (1996) Evolution of Social Insect Colonies. Sex Allocation and Kin‐selection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hölldobler B and Wilson EO (1990) The Ants. Berlin: Springer.

Keller L and Chapuisat M (1999) Cooperation among selfish individuals in insect societies. BioScience 49: 899–909.

Keller L and Reeve HK (1999) Dynamics of conflicts within insect societies. In: Keller L (ed) Levels of Selection in Evolution, pp. 153–175. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Queller DC and Strassmann JE (1998) Kin selection and social insects. Bioscience 48: 165–175.

Seeley TD (1995) The Wisdom of the Hive. The Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Keller, Laurent, and Chapuisat, Michel(Jan 2017) Eusociality and Cooperation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003670.pub3]