This paper introduces a theme issue presenting the latest developments in research on the impacts of sociality on health and fitness. The articles that follow cover research on societies ranging from insects to humans. Variation in measures of fitness (i.e. survival and reproduction) has been linked to various aspects of sociality in humans and animals alike, and variability in individual health and condition has been recognized as a key mediator of these relationships. Viewed from a broad evolutionary perspective, the evolutionary transitions from a solitary lifestyle to group living have resulted in several new health-related costs and benefits of sociality. Social transmission of parasites within groups represents a major cost of group living, but some behavioural mechanisms, such as grooming, have evolved repeatedly to reduce this cost. Group living also has created novel costs in terms of altered susceptibility to infectious and non-infectious disease as a result of the unavoidable physiological consequences of social competition and integration, which are partly alleviated by social buffering in some vertebrates. Here, we define the relevant aspects of sociality, summarize their health-related costs and benefits, and discuss possible fitness measures in different study systems. Given the pervasive effects of social factors on health and fitness, we propose a synthesis of existing conceptual approaches in disease ecology, ecological immunology and behavioural neurosciences by adding sociality as a key factor, with the goal to generate a broader framework for organismal integration of health-related research.
Keywords: fitness; group living; health; parasites; social transmission; stress.
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.