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Trends Ecol Evol. 2008 Jan;23(1):45-52. Epub 2007 Dec 20.

Altruism in insect societies and beyond: voluntary or enforced?

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Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


The altruism of insect workers has puzzled researchers for decades. Inclusive fitness theory suggests that high relatedness has been key in promoting such altruism. Recent theory, however, indicates that the intermediate levels of relatedness found within insect societies are too low to directly cause the extreme altruism observed in many species. Instead, recent results show that workers are frequently coerced into acting altruistically. Hence, the altruism seen in many modern-day insect societies is not voluntary but enforced. Here, we also consider the role of coercion in promoting altruism and cooperation in other social systems, such as vertebrate and human societies, and interspecific mutualisms.

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