1. Ecology
  2. Evolutionary Biology
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The evolution of non-reproductive workers in insect colonies with haplodiploid genetics

  1. Jason W Olejarz
  2. Benjamin Allen
  3. Carl Veller
  4. Martin A Nowak  Is a corresponding author
  1. Harvard University, United States
  2. Emmanuel College, United States
Research Article
  • Cited 14
  • Views 2,363
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Cite this article as: eLife 2015;4:e08918 doi: 10.7554/eLife.08918

Abstract

Eusociality is a distinct form of biological organization. A key characteristic of advanced eusociality is the presence of non-reproductive workers. Why evolution should produce animals that sacrice their own reproductive potential in order to aid others is an important question in evolutionary biology. Here we provide a detailed analysis of the selective forces that determine the emergence and stability of non-reproductive workers. We study the effects, in situations where the queen of the colony has mated once or several times, of recessive and dominant sterility alleles acting in her offspring. Contrary to widespread belief based on heuristic arguments of genetic relatedness, non-reproductive workers can easily evolve in polyandrous species. The crucial quantity is the functional relationship between a colony's reproductive rate and the fraction of sterile workers present in that colony. We derive precise conditions for natural selection to favor the evolution of non-reproductive workers.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Jason W Olejarz

    Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Benjamin Allen

    Department of Mathematics, Emmanuel College, Boston, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Carl Veller

    Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Martin A Nowak

    Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
    For correspondence
    martin_nowak@harvard.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Michael Doebeli, University of British Columbia, Canada

Publication history

  1. Received: May 21, 2015
  2. Accepted: October 20, 2015
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: October 20, 2015 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: February 3, 2016 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2015, Olejarz et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Further reading

Further reading

  1. How can natural selection favor the evolution of non-reproductive worker ants?

    1. Ecology
    2. Evolutionary Biology
    Syuan-Jyun Sun, Rebecca M Kilner
    Research Article

    Ecological conditions are known to change the expression of mutualisms though the causal agents driving such changes remain poorly understood. Here we show that temperature stress modulates the harm threatened by a common enemy, and thereby induces a phoretic mite to become a protective mutualist. Our experiments focus on the interactions between the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, an associated mite species Poecilochirus carabi and their common enemy, blowflies, when all three species reproduce on the same small vertebrate carrion. We show that mites compete with beetle larvae for food in the absence of blowflies, and reduce beetle reproductive success. However, when blowflies breed on the carrion too, mites enhance beetle reproductive success by eating blowfly eggs. High densities of mites are especially effective at promoting beetle reproductive success at higher and lower natural ranges in temperature, when blowfly larvae are more potent rivals for the limited resources on the carcass.