Relatedness and the fraternal major transitions

David C. Queller


Many of the major transitions in evolution involved the coalescence of independent lower–level units into a higher organismal level. This paper examines the role of kinship, focusing on the transitions to multicellularity in animals and to coloniality in insects. In both, kin selection based on high relatedness permitted cooperation and a reproductive division of labour. The higher relatedness of haplodiploid females to their sisters than to their offspring might not have been crucial in the origin of insect societies, and the transition to multicellularity shows that such special relationships are not required. When multicellular forms develop from a single cell, selfish conflict is minimal because each selfish mutant obtains only one generation of within–individual advantage in a chimaera. Conditionally expressed traits are particularly immune to within–individual selfishness because such mutations are rarely expressed in chimaeras. Such conditionally expressed altruism genes lead easily to the evolution of the soma, and the germ line might simply be what is left over. In most social insects, differences in relatedness ensure that there will be potential conflicts. Power asymmetries sometimes lead to such decisive settlements of conflicts that social insect colonies can be considered to be fully organismal.

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