Send to

Choose Destination
Nature. 2006 Jan 5;439(7072):76-8.

Complex social behaviour derived from maternal reproductive traits.

Author information

Arizona State University, School of Life Sciences, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA.


A fundamental goal of sociobiology is to explain how complex social behaviour evolves, especially in social insects, the exemplars of social living. Although still the subject of much controversy, recent theoretical explanations have focused on the evolutionary origins of worker behaviour (assistance from daughters that remain in the nest and help their mother to reproduce) through expression of maternal care behaviour towards siblings. A key prediction of this evolutionary model is that traits involved in maternal care have been co-opted through heterochronous expression of maternal genes to result in sib-care, the hallmark of highly evolved social life in insects. A coupling of maternal behaviour to reproductive status evolved in solitary insects, and was a ready substrate for the evolution of worker-containing societies. Here we show that division of foraging labour among worker honey bees (Apis mellifera) is linked to the reproductive status of facultatively sterile females. We thereby identify the evolutionary origin of a widely expressed social-insect behavioural syndrome, and provide a direct demonstration of how variation in maternal reproductive traits gives rise to complex social behaviour in non-reproductive helpers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Nature Publishing Group Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center