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The eusociality continuum
Eusocial societies are traditionally characterized by a reproductive division of labor, an overlap of generations, and cooperative care of the breeders' young. Eusociality was once thought to occur only in termites, ants, and some bee and wasp species, but striking evolutionary convergences have recently become apparent between the societies of these insects and those of cooperatively breeding birds and mammals. These parallels have blurred distinctions between cooperative breeding and eusociality, leading to calls for either drastically restricting or expanding wage of these terms. We favor the latter approach. Cooperative breeding and eusociality are not discrete phenomena, but rather form a continuum of fundamentally similar social systems whose main differences lie in the distribution of lifetime reproductive success among group members. Therefore we propose to array vertebrate and invertebrate cooperative breeders along a common axis, representing a standardized measure of reproductive variance, and to drop such (loaded) terms as ''primitive'' and ''advanced'' eusociality. The terminology we propose unites all occurrences of alloparental helping of kin under a single theoretical umbrella (e.g., Hamilton's rule). Thus, cooperatively breeding vertebrates can be regarded as eusocial, just as eusocial inverbrates are cooperative breeders. We believe this integrated approach will foster potentially revealing cross-taxon comparisons, which are essential to understanding social evolution in birds, mammals, and in sects.
avian eusociality cooperative breeding eusociality mammalian eusociality reproductive skews social system convergence
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