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The ecology of sex explains patterns of helping in arthropod societies

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Nicholas Davies, Laura Ross, Andy Gardner

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Across arthropod societies, sib-rearing (e.g. nursing or nest defence) may be provided by females, by males or by both sexes. According to Hamilton's ‘haplodiploidy hypothesis’, this diversity reflects the relatedness consequences of diploid vs. haplodiploid inheritance. However, an alternative ‘preadaptation hypothesis’ instead emphasises an interplay of ecology and the co-option of ancestral, sexually dimorphic traits for sib-rearing. The preadaptation hypothesis has recently received empirical support, but remains to be formalised. Here, we mathematically model the coevolution of sex-specific helping and sex allocation, contrasting these hypotheses. We find that ploidy per se has little effect. Rather, the ecology of sex shapes patterns of helping: sex-specific preadaptation strongly influences who helps; a freely adjustable sex ratio magnifies sex biases and promotes helping; and sib-mating, promiscuity, and reproductive autonomy also modulate the sex and abundance of helpers. An empirical survey reveals that patterns of sex-specific helping in arthropod taxa are consistent with the preadaptation hypothesis.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)862-872
Number of pages11
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number8
Early online date2 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016

    Research areas

  • Eusociality, Haplodiploidy, Inbreeding, Inclusive fitness, Local mate competition, Local resource enhancement, Manipulation, Preadaptation, Sex ratio, Sib-mating

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