Editor's Summary

26 August 2010

Natural selection and the evolution of eusociality


Eusocial insects, including ants and many wasp and bee species, form hierarchical communities comprising reproductive queens and sterile workers. This means that some individuals sacrifice their own reproductive potential in order to raise the offspring of others, a fact that Darwin recognized as a challenge to evolutionary theory. The most widely accepted explanations for the phenomenon rely on kin selection theory based on inclusive fitness — individual fitness derived by increasing the survival of a relatives' offspring. In an Analysis feature, Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita and Edward O. Wilson point out that this approach has its limitations. They demonstrate mathematically that inclusive fitness is a viable alternative to the direct fitness of standard natural selection only for a well-defined subset of situations — it is not generally applicable. A simpler explanation is provided by standard natural selection theory in the context of precise models of population structure.

AnalysisThe evolution of eusociality

Martin A. Nowak, Corina E. Tarnita & Edward O. Wilson

doi:10.1038/nature09205