Climbing the social ladder: the molecular evolution of sociality

Trends Ecol Evol. 2015 Jul;30(7):426-33. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.05.004. Epub 2015 Jun 5.


Genomic tools are allowing us to dissect the roles of genes and genetic architecture in social evolution, and eusocial insects are excellent models. Numerous hypotheses for molecular evolution of eusociality have been proposed, ranging from regulatory shifts in 'old' genes to rapid evolution of 'new' genes. A broad model to explain this major transition in evolution has been lacking. We provide a synthetic framework centered on the idea that different evolutionary processes dominate during different transitional stages, beginning with changes in gene regulation and culminating in novel genes later on. By considering multiple mechanisms as we 'climb the social ladder', we can test whether the transitions from solitary to simple sociality to complex sociality represent incremental changes or genetic revolutions.

Keywords: Hymenoptera; comparative genomics; eusociality; social evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Insecta / genetics*
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Social Behavior