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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jan 8;99(1):286-90. Epub 2001 Dec 26.

Evolution of sociality in a primitively eusocial lineage of bees.

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Department of Entomology, Comstock Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-0901, USA.


Eusociality is a major evolutionary innovation involving alterations in life history, morphology, and behavior. Advanced eusocial insects, such as ants, termites, and corbiculate bees, cannot provide insights into the earliest stages of eusocial evolution because eusociality in these taxa evolved long ago (in the Cretaceous) and close solitary relatives are no longer extant. In contrast, primitively eusocial insects, such as halictid bees, provide insights into the early stages of eusocial evolution because eusociality has arisen recently and repeatedly. By mapping social behavior onto well-corroborated phylogenies, I show that eusociality has arisen only three times within halictid bees (contrary to earlier estimates of six or more origins). Reversals from eusocial to solitary behavior have occurred as many as 12 times, indicating that social reversals are common in the earliest stages of eusocial evolution. Important attributes of social complexity (e.g., colony size, queen/worker dimorphism) show no obvious association with phylogeny, and some reversals to solitary nesting are related to host-plant switches (from polylecty to oligolecty). These results provide a glimpse of social evolution in its earliest stages and provide insights into the early evolution of advanced eusocial organisms.

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