Eusociality (from Greek εὖ eu "good" and social), the highest level of organization of sociality, is defined by the following characteristics: cooperative brood care (including care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. The division of labor creates specialized behavioral groups within an animal society which are sometimes referred to as 'castes'. Eusociality is distinguished from all other social systems because individuals of at least one caste usually lose the ability to perform at least one behavior characteristic of individuals in another caste. Eusocial colonies can be viewed as superorganisms.
Eusociality exists in certain insects, crustaceans, and mammals. It is mostly observed and studied in the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) and in Blattodea (termites). A colony has caste differences: queens and reproductive males take the roles of the sole reproducers, while soldiers and workers work together to create a living situation favorable for the brood. In addition to Hymenoptera and Blattodea, there are two known eusocial vertebrates among rodents: the naked mole-rat and the Damaraland mole-rat. Some shrimp, such as Synalpheus regalis, are also eusocial. E. O. Wilson and others have claimed that humans have evolved a weak form of eusociality, but these arguments have been disputed.
The term "eusocial" was introduced in 1966 by
For example, the size of pollen balls, a source of food, depended on when the egg-laying females oviposited. If the provisioning by pollen collectors was incomplete by the time the egg-laying female occupied a cell and oviposited, the size of the pollen balls would be small, leading to small offspring. Batra applied this term to species in which a colony is started by a single individual. Batra described other species, wherein the founder is accompanied by numerous helpers—as in a swarm of bees or ants—as "hypersocial".
- Egg-layers and worker-like individuals among adult females (division of labor)
- The overlap of generations (mother and adult offspring)
- Cooperative work on the cells of the bees' honeycomb
E. O. Wilson then extended the terminology to include other social insects, such as ants, wasps, and termites. Originally, it was defined to include organisms (only invertebrates) that had the following three features:
- Reproductive division of labor (with or without sterile castes)
- Overlapping generations
- Cooperative care of young
As eusociality became a recognized widespread phenomenon, however, it was also discovered in a group of
Most eusocial societies exist in arthropods, while a few are found in mammals. Ferns may exhibit eusocial behavior amongst clones.
Eusociality has evolved multiple times in different insect orders. In certain cases, eusociality has been reversed back into solitary behavior. The order Hymenoptera contains the largest group of eusocial insects, including ants, bees, and wasps—those with reproductive "queens" and more or less sterile "workers" and/or "soldiers" that perform specialized tasks. For example, in the well-studied social wasp Polistes versicolor, dominant females perform tasks such as building new cells and ovipositing, while subordinate females tend to perform tasks like feeding the larvae and foraging. The task differentiation between castes can be seen in the fact that subordinates complete 81.4% of the total foraging activity, while dominants only complete 18.6% of the total foraging. Eusocial species with a sterile caste are sometimes called hypersocial.
While only a moderate percentage of species in bees (families
Reproductive specialization generally involves the production of sterile members of the species, which carry out specialized tasks to care for the reproductive members. It can manifest in the appearance of individuals within a group whose behavior or morphology is modified for group defense, including self-sacrificing behavior ("
In Lasioglossum aeneiventre, a halictid bee from Central America, nests may be headed by more than one female; such nests have more cells, and the number of active cells per female is correlated with the number of females in the nest, implying that having more females leads to more efficient building and provisioning of cells. In similar species with only one queen, such as Lasioglossum malachurum in Europe, the degree of eusociality depends on the clime in which the species is found.
Some species of
Eusociality has also arisen in three different lineages among some crustaceans that live in separate colonies. Synalpheus regalis, Synalpheus filidigitus, Synalpheus elizabethae, Synalpheus chacei, Synalpheus riosi, Synalpheus duffyi, Synalpheus microneptunus, and Synalpheus cayoneptunus are the eight recorded species of parasitic shrimp that rely on fortress defense and live in groups of closely related individuals in tropical reefs and sponges, living eusocially with a typically a single breeding female and a large number of male defenders, armed with enlarged snapping claws. As with other eusocial societies, there is a single shared living space for the colony members, and the non-breeding members act to defend it.
The fortress defense hypothesis additionally points out that because sponges provide both food and shelter, there is an aggregation of relatives (because the shrimp do not have to disperse to find food), and much competition for those nesting sites. Being the target of attack promotes a good defense system (soldier caste); soldiers therefore promote the fitness of the whole nest by ensuring safety and reproduction of the queen.
Eusociality offers a competitive advantage in shrimp populations. Eusocial species were found to be more abundant, occupy more of the habitat, and use more of the available resources than non-eusocial species. Other studies add to these findings by pointing out that cohabitation was more rare than expected by chance, and that most sponges were dominated by one species, which was frequently eusocial.
In nonhuman mammals
Among mammals, eusociality is known in two species in the
Some mammals in the
An early 21st century debate focused on whether humans are
Eusociality is a rare but widespread phenomenon in species in at least seven orders in the animal kingdom, as shown in the phylogenetic tree (non-eusocial groups not shown). All species of termites are eusocial, and it is believed that they were the first eusocial animals to evolve, sometime in the upper Jurassic period (~150 million years ago). The other orders shown also contain non-eusocial species, including many lineages where eusociality was inferred to be the ancestral state. Thus the number of independent evolutions of eusociality is still under investigation. The major eusocial groups are shown in boldface in the phylogenetic tree.
Prior to the
Inclusive fitness and haplodiploidy
However, not all eusocial species are haplodiploid (termites, some snapping shrimps, and mole rats are not). Conversely, many bees are haplodiploid yet are not eusocial, and among eusocial species many queens mate with multiple males, resulting in a hive of half-sisters that share only 25% of their genes. The association between haplodiploidy and eusociality is below statistical significance. Haplodiploidy alone is thus neither necessary nor sufficient for eusociality to emerge. However relatedness does still play a part, as monogamy (queens mating singly) has been shown to be the ancestral state for all eusocial species so far investigated. If kin selection is an important force driving the evolution of eusociality, monogamy should be the ancestral state, because it maximizes the relatedness of colony members.
Many scientists citing the close phylogenetic relationships between eusocial and non-eusocial species are making the case that environmental factors are especially important in the evolution of eusociality. The relevant factors primarily involve the distribution of food and predators.
Increased parasitism and predation rates are the primary ecological drivers of social organization. Group living affords colony members defense against enemies, specifically predators, parasites, and competitors, and allows them to gain advantage from superior foraging methods.
With the exception of some aphids and thrips, all eusocial species live in a communal nest which provides both shelter and access to food resources. Mole rats, many bees, most termites, and most ants live in burrows in the soil; wasps, some bees, some ants, and some termites build above-ground nests or inhabit above-ground cavities; thrips and aphids inhabit galls (neoplastic outgrowths) induced on plants; ambrosia beetles and some termites nest together in dead wood; and snapping shrimp inhabit crevices in marine sponges. For many species the habitat outside the nest is often extremely arid or barren, creating such a high cost to dispersal that the chance to take over the colony following parental death is greater than the chance of dispersing to form a new colony. Defense of such fortresses from both predators and competitors often favors the evolution of non-reproductive soldier castes, while the high costs of nest construction and expansion favor non-reproductive worker castes.
The importance of ecology is supported by evidence such as experimentally induced reproductive division of labor, for example when normally solitary queens are forced together. Conversely, female Damaraland mole-rats undergo hormonal changes that promote dispersal after periods of high rainfall, supporting the plasticity of eusocial traits in response to environmental cues.
Climate also appears to be a selective agent driving social complexity; across bee lineages and Hymenoptera in general, higher forms of sociality are more likely to occur in tropical than temperate environments. Similarly, social transitions within halictid bees, where eusociality has been gained and lost multiple times, are correlated with periods of climatic warming. Social behavior in facultative social bees is often reliably predicted by ecological conditions, and switches in behavioral type have been experimentally induced by translocating offspring of solitary or social populations to warm and cool climates. In H. rubicundus, females produce a single brood in cooler regions and two or more broods in warmer regions, so the former populations are solitary while the latter are social. In another species of sweat bees, L. calceatum, social phenotype has been predicted by altitude and micro-habitat composition, with social nests found in warmer, sunnier sites, and solitary nests found in adjacent, cooler, shaded locations. Facultatively social bee species, however, which comprise the majority of social bee diversity, have their lowest diversity in the tropics, being largely limited to temperate regions.
Once pre-adaptations such as group formation, nest building, high cost of dispersal, and morphological variation are present, between-group competition has been cited as a quintessential force in the transition to advanced eusociality. Because the hallmarks of eusociality will produce an extremely altruistic society, such groups will out-reproduce their less cooperative competitors, eventually eliminating all non-eusocial groups from a species. Multilevel selection has however been heavily criticized by some for its conflict with the kin selection theory.
Reversal to solitarity
A reversal to solitarity is an evolutionary phenomenon in which descendants of a eusocial group evolve solitary behavior once again. Bees have been model organisms for the study of reversal to solitarity, because of the diversity of their social systems. Each of the four origins of eusociality in bees was followed by at least one reversal to solitarity, giving a total of at least nine reversals. In a few species, solitary and eusocial colonies appear simultaneously in the same population, and different populations of the same species may be fully solitary or eusocial. This suggests that eusociality is costly to maintain, and can only persist when ecological variables favor it. Disadvantages of eusociality include the cost of investing in non-reproductive offspring, and an increased risk of disease.
All reversals to solitarity have occurred among primitively eusocial groups; none have followed the emergence of advanced eusociality. The "point of no return" hypothesis posits that the morphological differentiation of reproductive and non-reproductive castes prevents highly eusocial species such as the honeybee from reverting to the solitary state.
Physiological and developmental mechanisms
An understanding of the physiological causes and consequences of the eusocial condition has been somewhat slow; nonetheless, major advancements have been made in learning more about the mechanistic and developmental processes that lead to eusociality.
Involvement of pheromones
The levels of two of the aliphatic compounds increase rapidly in virgin queens within the first week after
In several ant species, reproductive activity has also been associated with pheromone production by queens. In general, mated egg laying queens are attractive to workers whereas young winged virgin queens, which are not yet mated, elicit little or no response. However, very little is known about when pheromone production begins during the initiation of reproductive activity or about the physiological factors regulating either reproductive development or queen pheromone production in ants.
Among ants, the queen pheromone system of the fire ant
Similar mechanisms are used for the eusocial wasp species Vespula vulgaris. In order for a Vespula vulgaris queen to dominate all the workers, usually numbering more than 3000 in a colony, she exerts pheromone to signal her dominance. The workers were discovered to regularly lick the queen while feeding her, and the air-borne pheromone from the queen's body alerts those workers of her dominance.
The mode of action of inhibitory pheromones which prevent the development of eggs in workers has been convincingly demonstrated in the bumble bee
A variety of strategies in addition to the use of pheromones have evolved that give the queens of different species of social insects a measure of reproductive control over their nest mates.
In primitively eusocial bees (where castes are morphologically similar and colonies usually small and short-lived), queens frequently nudge their nest mates and then burrow back down into the nest. This behavior draws workers into the lower part of the nest where they may respond to stimuli for cell construction and maintenance. Being nudged by the queen may play a role in inhibiting ovarian development and this form of queen control is supplemented by oophagy of worker laid eggs. Furthermore, temporally discrete production of workers and gynes (actual or potential queens) can cause size dimorphisms between different castes as size is strongly influenced by the season during which the individual is reared. In many wasp species worker caste determination is characterized by a temporal pattern in which workers precede non-workers of the same generation. In some cases, for example in the bumble bee, queen control weakens late in the season and the ovaries of workers develop to an increasing extent. The queen attempts to maintain her dominance by aggressive behavior and by eating worker laid eggs; her aggression is often directed towards the worker with the greatest ovarian development.
In highly eusocial wasps (where castes are morphologically dissimilar), both the quantity and quality of food seem to be important for caste differentiation. Recent studies in wasps suggest that differential larval nourishment may be the environmental trigger for larval divergence into one of two developmental classes destined to become either a worker or a gyne. All honey bee larvae are initially fed with royal jelly, which is secreted by workers, but normally they are switched over to a diet of pollen and honey as they mature; if their diet is exclusively royal jelly, however, they grow larger than normal and differentiate into queens. This jelly seems to contain a specific protein, designated as royalactin, which increases body size, promotes ovary development, and shortens the developmental time period. Furthermore, the differential expression in Polistes of larval genes and proteins (also differentially expressed during queen versus caste development in honey bees) indicate that regulatory mechanisms may occur very early in development.
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