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Only full-sibling families evolved eusociality

Nature volume 471, pages E4E5 (24 March 2011) | Download Citation


Arising from M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita & E. O. Wilson Nature 466, 1057–1062 (2010)10.1038/nature09205; Nowak et al. reply

The paper by Nowak et al.1 has the evolution of eusociality as its title, but it is mostly about something else. It argues against inclusive fitness theory and offers an alternative modelling approach that is claimed to be more fundamental and general, but which, we believe, has no practical biological meaning for the evolution of eusociality. Nowak et al.1 overlook the robust empirical observation that eusociality has only arisen in clades where mothers are associated with their full-sibling offspring; that is, in families where the average relatedness of offspring to siblings is as high as to their own offspring, independent of population structure or ploidy. We believe that this omission makes the paper largely irrelevant for understanding the evolution of eusociality.

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Author information


  1. *Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Jacobus J. Boomsma
    •  & Luke Holman
  2. †Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Lab, School of Biological Sciences A12, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    • Madeleine Beekman
    •  & Benjamin P. Oldroyd
  3. ‡Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

    • Charlie K. Cornwallis
    •  & Ashleigh S. Griffin
  4. §Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Miall Building, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • William O. H. Hughes
  5. Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Laurent Keller
  6. ¶Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK

    • Francis L. W. Ratnieks


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J.J.B. took the initiative for this contribution and wrote the first draft. All co-authors provided written and/or oral comments that helped shape the final submission.

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Competing financial interests: declared none.

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Correspondence to Jacobus J. Boomsma.

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