Studies of the genetic basis and evolution of complex social behavior emphasize either conserved or novel genes. To begin to reconcile these perspectives, we studied how the evolutionary conservation of genes associated with social behavior depends on regulatory context, and whether genes associated with social behavior exist in distinct regulatory and evolutionary contexts. We identified modules of co-expressed genes associated with age-based division of labor between nurses and foragers in the ant Monomorium pharaonis, and we studied the relationship between molecular evolution, connectivity, and expression. Highly connected and expressed genes were more evolutionarily conserved, as expected. However, compared to the rest of the genome, forager-upregulated genes were much more highly connected and conserved, while nurse-upregulated genes were less connected and more evolutionarily labile. Our results indicate that the genetic architecture of social behavior includes both highly connected and conserved components as well as loosely connected and evolutionarily labile components.
Keywords: age polyethism; eusociality; evolutionary biology; gene regulatory network; genomics; social evolution.