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J Evol Biol. 2012 Jan;25(1):1-19. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02421.x. Epub 2011 Nov 23.

A conceptual model for the origin of worker behaviour and adaptation of eusociality.

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Departments of Biology and Entomology, W M Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


In a model based on the wasp family Vespidae, the origin of worker behaviour, which constitutes the eusociality threshold, is not based on relatedness, therefore the origin of eusociality does not depend on inclusive fitness, and workers at the eusociality threshold are not altruistic. Instead, incipient workers and queens behave selfishly and are subject to direct natural selection. Beyond the eusociality threshold, relatedness enables 'soft inheritance' as the framework for initial adaptations of eusociality. At the threshold of irreversibility, queen and worker castes become fixed in advanced eusociality. Transitions from solitary to facultative, facultative to primitive, and primitive to advanced eusociality occur via exaptation, phenotypic accommodation and genetic assimilation. Multilevel selection characterizes the solitary to highly eusocial transition, but components of multilevel selection vary across levels of eusociality. Roles of behavioural flexibility and developmental plasticity in the evolutionary process equal or exceed those of genotype.

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