Letter | Published:

Site-specific group selection drives locally adapted group compositions

Nature volume 514, pages 359362 (16 October 2014) | Download Citation


Group selection may be defined as selection caused by the differential extinction or proliferation of groups1,2. The socially polymorphic spider Anelosimus studiosus exhibits a behavioural polymorphism in which females exhibit either a ‘docile’ or ‘aggressive’ behavioural phenotype3,4. Natural colonies are composed of a mixture of related docile and aggressive individuals, and populations differ in colonies’ characteristic docile:aggressive ratios5,6. Using experimentally constructed colonies of known composition, here we demonstrate that population-level divergence in docile:aggressive ratios is driven by site-specific selection at the group level—certain ratios yield high survivorship at some sites but not others. Our data also indicate that colonies responded to the risk of extinction: perturbed colonies tended to adjust their composition over two generations to match the ratio characteristic of their native site, thus promoting their long-term survival in their natal habitat. However, colonies of displaced individuals continued to shift their compositions towards mixtures that would have promoted their survival had they remained at their home sites, regardless of their contemporary environment. Thus, the regulatory mechanisms that colonies use to adjust their composition appear to be locally adapted. Our data provide experimental evidence of group selection driving collective traits in wild populations.

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We are indebted to S. E. Riechert for her assistance with the design and implementation of this experiment, and to J. Troupe and J. Taylor for their assistance with establishing and censusing colonies. J. E. Strassmann and W. P. Carson were invaluable in aiding in the submission of this paper. We thank M. Rebeiz for recommending that we compare colonies composed of native versus foreign individuals. S. M. Bertram, E. M. Jakob, C. N. Keiser, C. M. Wright, N. Pinter-Wollman, J. M. Jandt and A.P. Modlmeier provided helpful comments on this paper. Funding for this work was provided by a National Science Foundation grant to J.N.P. (IOS #1352705).

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  1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA

    • Jonathan N. Pruitt
  2. Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA

    • Charles J. Goodnight


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J.N.P. designed the experiment, performed the experiment, and wrote the manuscript. C.J.G. assisted with data analyses and writing of the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonathan N. Pruitt.

The source data for this manuscript have been deposited in the Dryad Digital Repository (http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.87g80).

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