Cryptic plasticity underlies a major evolutionary transition

J. Field, Robert Paxton, Antonella Soro, C. Bridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The origin of eusociality is often regarded as a change of macroevolutionary proportions [1, 2]. Its hallmark is a reproductive division of labor between the members of a society: some individuals ("helpers" or "workers") forfeit their own reproduction to rear offspring of others ("queens"). In the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps), there have been many transitions in both directions between solitary nesting and sociality [2-5]. How have such transitions occurred? One possibility is that multiple transitions represent repeated evolutionary gains and losses of the traits underpinning sociality. A second possibility, however, is that once sociality has evolved, subsequent transitions represent selection at just one or a small number of loci controlling developmental switches between preexisting alternative phenotypes [2, 6]. We might then expect transitional populations that can express either sociality or solitary nesting, depending on environmental conditions. Here, we use field transplants to directly induce transitions in British and Irish populations of the sweat bee Halictus rubicundus. Individual variation in social phenotype was linked to time available for offspring production, and to the genetic benefits of sociality, suggesting that helping was not simply misplaced parental care [7]. We thereby demonstrate that sociality itself can be truly plastic in a hymenopteran.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2028-2031
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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