Molecular ecology of social behaviour: analyses of breeding systems and genetic structure

Mol Ecol. 2001 Feb;10(2):265-84. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-294x.2001.01191.x.


Molecular genetic studies of group kin composition and local genetic structure in social organisms are becoming increasingly common. A conceptual and mathematical framework that links attributes of the breeding system to group composition and genetic structure is presented here, and recent empirical studies are reviewed in the context of this framework. Breeding system properties, including the number of breeders in a social group, their genetic relatedness, and skew in their parentage, determine group composition and the distribution of genetic variation within and between social units. This group genetic structure in turn influences the opportunities for conflict and cooperation to evolve within groups and for selection to occur among groups or clusters of groups. Thus, molecular studies of social groups provide the starting point for analyses of the selective forces involved in social evolution, as well as for analyses of other fundamental evolutionary problems related to sex allocation, reproductive skew, life history evolution, and the nature of selection in hierarchically structured populations. The framework presented here provides a standard system for interpreting and integrating genetic and natural history data from social organisms for application to a broad range of evolutionary questions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breeding*
  • Ecology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Biology
  • Social Behavior*