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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Jun;22(6):1393-402. Epub 2005 Mar 9.

Sociality and the rate of molecular evolution.

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Centre for the Study of Evolution, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom.


The molecular clock does not tick at a uniform rate in all taxa but may be influenced by species characteristics. Eusocial species (those with reproductive division of labor) have been predicted to have faster rates of molecular evolution than their nonsocial relatives because of greatly reduced effective population size; if most individuals in a population are nonreproductive and only one or few queens produce all the offspring, then eusocial animals could have much lower effective population sizes than their solitary relatives, which should increase the rate of substitution of "nearly neutral" mutations. An earlier study reported faster rates in eusocial honeybees and vespid wasps but failed to correct for phylogenetic nonindependence or to distinguish between potential causes of rate variation. Because sociality has evolved independently in many different lineages, it is possible to conduct a more wide-ranging study to test the generality of the relationship. We have conducted a comparative analysis of 25 phylogenetically independent pairs of social lineages and their nonsocial relatives, including bees, wasps, ants, termites, shrimps, and mole rats, using a range of available DNA sequences (mitochondrial and nuclear DNA coding for proteins and RNAs, and nontranslated sequences). By including a wide range of social taxa, we were able to test whether there is a general influence of sociality on rates of molecular evolution and to test specific predictions of the hypothesis: (1) that social species have faster rates because they have reduced effective population sizes; (2) that mitochondrial genes would show a greater effect of sociality than nuclear genes; and (3) that rates of molecular evolution should be correlated with the degree of sociality. We find no consistent pattern in rates of molecular evolution between social and nonsocial lineages and no evidence that mitochondrial genes show faster rates in social taxa. However, we show that the most highly eusocial Hymenoptera do have faster rates than their nonsocial relatives. We also find that social parasites (that utilize the workers from related species to produce their own offspring) have faster rates than their social relatives, which is consistent with an effect of lower effective population size on rate of molecular evolution. Our results illustrate the importance of allowing for phylogenetic nonindependence when conducting investigations of determinants of variation in rate of molecular evolution.

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