Long-term Sabbatical

The origins of arthropod sociality

PI(s): James H Hunt (North Carolina State Univerisity)
Start Date: 1-Mar-2010
End Date: 31-Jul-2010

To learn and understand the evolution of sociality is a challenge to evolutionists that is Darwinian in heritage, daunting in complexity and subtlety, and a gateway to understanding fundamental evolutionary processes. That challenge can best be met by dividing it, as did Darwin, into two questions: the origin of sociality and its adaptive elaboration. I propose to continue work on a book, The Origins of Arthropod Sociality, that is focused on the first of these questions. The book treats societies of insects and other arthropods, covering the full range of their social diversity. A prominent feature is a presentation of the philosophy, concepts, and methods by which the origin of sociality in paper wasps has been substantially resolved. Then, patterns will be sought for three contexts in which sociality can evolve: parental care, cooperative nest founding, and non-nesting aggregations. For selected taxa in each of the three contexts, the current state of knowledge on the origin of sociality will be detailed; lacunae in knowledge will be highlighted; and avenues to filling in the blanks will be described, based on the approaches that have been successful in understanding the origin of sociality in paper wasps. The principal objective of the book is to give examples and delineate general principles to show that pathways infrequently travelled by theoreticians and researchers can lead to success in understanding one of evolutionary biology’s greatest complexities – the origin of sociality.