Insects' 'giant leap' reconstructed by founder of sociobiology

Jan 02, 2008

[B]A survey of advanced social organization in insects calls into question the standard explanation for eusociality[/B]
The January 2008 issue of BioScience includes an article by biologist Edward O. Wilson that argues for a new perspective on the evolution of advanced social organization in some ants, bees, and wasps (Hymenoptera).

Wilson’s article surveys recent evidence that the high level of social organization called “eusociality,” found in some Hymenoptera (and rarely in other species), is a result of natural selection on nascent colonies of species possessing features that predispose them to colonial life. Wilson concludes that these features, principally progressive provisioning of larvae and behavioral flexibility that leads to division of labor, allow some species to evolve colonies that are maintained and defended because of their proximity to food sources.

Eusociality is a challenge for biologists to understand because worker castes in eusocial species forgo individual reproduction but rear young that are not their own, a behavior that biologists label altruistic. Wilson’s current view about eusociality differs from the assessment in his seminal book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975). According to that widely accepted earlier account, selection acting on individuals that are related (kin selection), rather than on whole colonies, explains eusociality in Hymenoptera. Kin selection is thought to be especially powerful in these animals because of an unusual genetic system, known as haplodiploidy, that they share.

Wilson’s survey in BioScience, which examines the findings of a number of researchers, points out aspects of the occurrence of eusociality that the standard explanation has difficulty accounting for. Eusociality has evolved only a few times, and not all of them were in haplodiploid species. Furthermore, the great majority of haplodiploid species are not eusocial. Wilson holds that selection acting on traits that emerge at a group level provides a more complete explanation for eusociality’s rare instances than kin selection. Kin selection is, he writes, “not wrong” but incomplete.


Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Explore further: Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Related Stories

Social insects, your grandma and Darwin

Jan 13, 2015

Darwin was not a fan of social insects, or at least not of those you're likely to step on or be stung by. Some of these critters—notably ants and termites, and certain wasps, bees and aphids—exhibit a high degree of social ...

Ants have an exceptionally 'hi-def' sense of smell

Sep 10, 2012

The first complete map of the ants' olfactory system has discovered that the eusocial insects have four to fives more odorant receptors—the special proteins that detect different odors—than other insects.

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

23 hours ago

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

The math of shark skin

Jul 03, 2015

"Sharks are almost perfectly evolved animals. We can learn a lot from studying them," says Emory mathematician Alessandro Veneziani.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

Jul 03, 2015

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.