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The diversity of social complexity in termites

Revely, Lewis, Eggleton, Paul, Clement, Rebecca, Zhou, Chuanyu and Bishop, Tom R. 2024. The diversity of social complexity in termites. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 291 (2024) , 20232791. 10.1098/rspb.2023.2791

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Sociality underpins major evolutionary transitions and significantly influences the structure and function of complex ecosystems. Social insects, seen as the pinnacle of sociality, have traits like obligate sterility that are considered ‘master traits’, used as single phenotypic measures of this complexity. However, evidence is mounting that completely aligning both phenotypic and evolutionary social complexity, and having obligate sterility central to both, is erroneous. We hypothesize that obligate and functional sterility are insufficient in explaining the diversity of phenotypic social complexity in social insects. To test this, we explore the relative importance of these sterility traits in an understudied but diverse taxon: the termites. We compile the largest termite social complexity dataset to date, using specimen and literature data. We find that although functional and obligate sterility explain a significant proportion of variance, neither trait is an adequate singular proxy for the phenotypic social complexity of termites. Further, we show both traits have only a weak association with the other social complexity traits within termites. These findings have ramifications for our general comprehension of the frameworks of phenotypic and evolutionary social complexity, and their relationship with sterility.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:, Type: open-access
Publisher: The Royal Society
ISSN: 0962-8452
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 June 2024
Date of Acceptance: 3 May 2024
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2024 09:48

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