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Am Nat. 2006 Mar;167(3):390-400. Epub 2006 Jan 30.

The evolution of worker caste diversity in social insects.

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Evolutionary Genetics Laboratory, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.


Morphological diversification of workers is predicted to improve the division of labor within social insect colonies, yet many species have monomorphic workers. Individual-level selection on the reproductive capacities of workers may counter colony-level selection for diversification, and life-history differences between species (timing of caste determination, colony size, genetic variation available) may mediate the strength of this selection. We tested this through phylogenetically independent contrast analyses on a new data set for 35 ant species. Evidence was found that early divergence of queen-worker developmental pathways may facilitate the evolution of worker diversity because queen-worker dimorphism was strongly positively associated with diversity. By contrast, risks for colonies that invest in specialized workers and colony size effects on costs of worker reproduction seem unlikely to strongly affect the evolution of worker diversity because there was no significant association between colony size and diversity when controlling statistically for queen-worker dimorphism. Finally, worker diversity was greater in species with multiple lineages per colony, and it was negatively associated with relatedness in monogynous species. This could be due to high intracolonial genetic variance favoring the expression and evolution of great worker diversity or to diversity evolving more easily when there is selection for repression of worker reproduction (worker policing).

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