Multilevel selection and social evolution of insect societies
How sterile, altruistic worker castes have evolved in social insects and how they are maintained have long been central topics in evolutionary biology. With the advance of kin selection theory, insect societies, in particular those of haplodiploid bees, ants, and wasps, have become highly suitable model systems for investigating the details of social evolution and recently also how within-group conflicts are resolved. Because insect societies typically do not consist of clones, conflicts among nestmates arise, for example about the partitioning of reproduction and the allocation of resources towards male and female sexuals. Variation in relatedness among group members therefore appears to have a profound influence on the social structure of groups. However, insect societies appear to be remarkably robust against such variation: division of labor and task allocation are often organized in more or less the same way in societies with high as in those with very low nestmate relatedness. To explain the discrepancy between predictions from kin structure and empirical data, it was suggested that constraints—such as the lack of power or information—prevent individuals from pursuing their own selfish interests. Applying a multilevel selection approach shows that these constraints are in fact group-level adaptation preventing or resolving intracolonial conflict. The mechanisms of conflict resolution in insect societies are similar to those at other levels in the biological hierarchy (e.g., in the genome or multicellular organisms): alignment of interests, fair lottery, and social control. Insect societies can thus be regarded as a level of selection with novelties that provide benefits beyond the scope of a solitary life. Therefore, relatedness is less important for the maintenance of insect societies, although it played a fundamental role in their evolution.