Evaluating the role of reproductive constraints in ant social evolution

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Feb 27;365(1540):617-30. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0257.


The reproductive division of labour is a key feature of eusociality in ants, where queen and worker castes show dramatic differences in the development of their reproductive organs. To understand the developmental and genetic basis underlying this division of labour, we performed a molecular analysis of ovary function and germ cell development in queens and workers. We show that the processes of ovarian development in queens have been highly conserved relative to the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. We also identify specific steps during oogenesis and embryogenesis in which ovarian and germ cell development have been evolutionarily modified in the workers. These modifications, which we call 'reproductive constraints', are often assumed to represent neutral degenerations that are a consequence of social evolutionary forces. Based on our developmental and functional analysis of these constraints, however, we propose and discuss the alternative hypothesis that reproductive constraints represent adaptive proximate mechanisms or traits for maintaining social harmony in ants. We apply a multi-level selection framework to help understand the role of these constraints in ant social evolution. A complete understanding of how cooperation, conflict and developmental systems evolve in social groups requires a 'socio-evo-devo' approach that integrates social evolutionary and developmental biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / genetics*
  • Ants / growth & development
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / growth & development
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Oogenesis / genetics
  • Oogenesis / physiology
  • Ovary / growth & development
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Social Behavior


  • DNA Primers