Social evolution- has nature ever rewound the tape?

Gadagkar, Raghavendra (1997) Social evolution- has nature ever rewound the tape? Current Science, 72 (12). pp. 950-956. ISSN 0011-3891

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Social insects such as ants, bees, wasps and termites exhibit extreme forms of altruism where some individuals remain sterile and assist other individuals in reproduction. Hamilton's inclusive fitness theory provides a powerful framework for investigating the evolution of such altruism. Using the paper wasp Ropalidia marginata, we have quantified and delineated the role of ecological, physiological, genetic and demographic factors in social evolution. An interesting feature of the models we have developed is their svmrnetrv so that either altruism or selfishness can evolve, depending on the numerical values of various parameters. This suggests that selfish/solitary behaviour must occasionally re-emerge even' from the eusocial state. It is useful to contemplate expected intermediate states during such potential reversals. We can perhaps envisage three successive steps in such a hypothetical process: i) workers revolt against the hegemony of the queen and chaIJenge her status as the sole reproductive, ii) workers stop producing queens and one or more of them function as egg layers (functional queenls) capable of producing both haploid as well as diploid offspring and iii) social evolution reverses completely so that a eusocial species becomes solitary, at least facultatively. It appears that the third step, namely transition from eusociality to the solitary state, is rare and has been restricted to transitions from the primitively eusocial state only. The absence of transitions from the highly eusocial state to the solitary state may be attributed to a number of 'preventing mechanisms' such as (a) queen control of workers (b) loss of spermathecae and ability to mate (c) morphological specialization (d) caste polyethism and (e) homeostasis, which must each make the transition difficult and, taken together, perhaps very difficult. However, the discovery of a transition from the highly eusocial to the solitary state can hardly be ruled out, given that little or no effort has gone into its detection. In this paper I discuss social evolution and its possible reversal and cite potential examples of stages in the transition from the social to the solitary.

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