Social polymorphism is favoured by the co-evolution of dispersal with social behaviour

  • Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 2pages132140 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0397-y
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Dispersal determines gene flow among groups in a population and so plays a major role in many ecological and evolutionary processes. As gene flow shapes kin structure, dispersal is important to the evolution of social behaviours that influence reproduction within groups. Conversely, dispersal depends on kin structure and social behaviour. Dispersal and social behaviour therefore co-evolve, but the nature and consequences of this interplay are not well understood. Here, we show that it readily leads to the emergence of two social morphs: a sessile, benevolent morph expressed by individuals who tend to increase the reproduction of others within their group relative to their own; and a dispersive, self-serving morph expressed by individuals who tend to increase their own reproduction. This social polymorphism arises due to a positive linkage between the loci responsible for dispersal and social behaviour, leading to benevolent individuals preferentially interacting with relatives and self-serving individuals with non-relatives. We find that this linkage is favoured under a large spectrum of conditions, suggesting that associations between dispersal and other social traits should be common in nature. In line with this prediction, dispersers across a wide range of organisms have been reported to differ in their social tendencies from non-dispersers.

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Change history

  • Correction 11 December 2017

    Owing to a technical error, some text was missing in the originally published version of this Article. In the last paragraph of the Discussion section, the second sentence should have read “Yet, the selection that associates dispersal and social behaviour in our model will influence evolution under most ecological settings because it depends only on kin structure, which, due to limited dispersal and the spatial scale of social interactions, is ubiquitous in nature47.” This error has now been corrected in all versions of the Article.


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Author information


  1. Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, 1004, Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Charles Mullon
    • , Laurent Keller
    •  & Laurent Lehmann


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C.M., L.K. and L.L. conceptualized the study. C.M. designed the models and performed the analyses. C.M., L.K. and L.L. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Charles Mullon or Laurent Keller.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–3, Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Table 1.

  2. Life Sciences Reporting Summary