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Life Sciences | Introduction to the Virtual Issue: Social Complexity: patterns, processes, and evolution

Introduction to the Virtual Issue: Social Complexity: patterns, processes, and evolution

The shift from simple to more complex social systems represents one of the major evolutionary transitions. While many articles in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (and elsewhere) have highlighted immense variation in the structure of social systems, we still lack a general consensus about what exactly defines or constitutes complex animal societies. Our aim for the Topical Collection and this Virtual Issue is to provide an overview of the diversity of current and past research related to social complexity to facilitate the integration of the various concepts, perspectives and approaches.

After the term “social complexity” appeared for the first time in this journal in an article published in 1988 (Curry, see below), there has been a steady increase, with 12 articles published during the last two years explicitly referring to social complexity. This pattern in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology matches a general trend: the first time more than 10 articles included in Web of Science had the term “social complexity” as a topic was in 1992, but in 2017 there were more than 2500 articles, an increase that is three-times larger than the general increase in articles published in the general field of sociality. The articles in this Virtual Issue are accordingly a fitting accompaniment to our Topical Collection, as they allow readers to broaden their perspectives, as regards both the content as well as the historical development of this topic, and to identify the general patterns that might emerge from such a comparative approach.

The 24 articles we selected for this Virtual Issue span the whole 40 years of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, and include articles that provided crucial insights into evolutionary transitions and the functioning of animal societies without necessarily referring explicitly to social complexity. Our goal was to showcase the diversity of perspectives that characterizes the research published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology: the articles discuss phenomena and proximate and ultimate questions related to social complexity in fishes, birds, mammals, ants, bees, wasps, termites, beetles, spiders, and shrimp. We invite readers to use these articles as a starting point to search further within the archives of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology to locate other significant works in the field.

Dieter Lukas & Peter Kappeler

The three-dimensional structure of airborne bird flocks 

Peter F. Major, Lawrence M. Dill

Cross-seasonal interactions in the evolution of sandpiper social systems 

J. P. Myers

Colony founding, queen dominance and oligogyny in the Australian meat ant Iridomyrmex purpureus 

Bert Hölldobler, Norman F. Carlin

Social evolution and its correlates in bees of the subgenus Evylaeus (Hymenoptera; Halictidae) 

Laurence Packer, Gerd Knerer

Influence of kinship on helping behavior in Galápagos mockingbirds 

Robert L. Curry

Energetics, reproductive suppression and obligate communal breeding in carnivores 

Scott R. Creel, Nancy M. Creel

Trophic aspects of caste determination in Halictus ligatus, a primitively eusocial sweat bee 

Miriam H. Richards, Laurence Packer

Behavioral and life-history components of division of labor in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) 

Ernesto Guzmán-Novoa, Robert E. Page Jr., Norman E. Gary

Components of lifetime reproductive success in communally and solitarily nursing house mice — a laboratory study 

Barbara König

Colony life history and demography of a swarm-founding social wasp 

J. E. Strassmann, Carlos R. Solís, C. R. Hughes, Keith F. Goodnight, David C. Queller

Discrimination of different social companions in spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus): evidence for individual vocal recognition 

Ralf Wanker, Jasmin Apcin, Bert Jennerjahn, Birte Waibel

Queen and worker policing in the monogynous and monandrous ant, Diacamma sp. 

Noritsugu Kikuta, Kazuki Tsuji

Group size, queuing and helping decisions in facultatively eusocial hover wasps 

Jeremy Field, Gavin Shreeves, Seirian Sumner

Correlates of group size in a cooperatively breeding cichlid fish (Neolamprologus pulcher) 

Sigal Balshine, Brenda Leach, Francis Neat, Hannah Reid, Michael Taborsky, Noam Werner

Colony defense and behavioral differentiation in the eusocial shrimp Synalpheus regali  

Emmett J. Duffy, Cheryl L. Morrison, Kenneth S. Macdonald

Help or disperse? Cooperation in termites influenced by food conditions 

Judith Korb, Sandra Schmidinger

Division of labour and worker size polymorphism in ant colonies: the impact of social and genetic factors 

Tanja Schwander, Hervé Rosset, Michel Chapuisat

Kin associations and direct vs indirect fitness benefits in colonial cooperatively breeding sociable weavers Philetairus socius 

Rita Covas, Ambroise Dalecky, Alain Caizergues, Claire Doutrelant

Social structure and co-operative interactions in a wild population of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) 

D. P. Croft, R. James, P. O. R. Thomas, C. Hathaway, D. Mawdsley, Kn. N. Laland, J. Krause

Social relationships among adult female baboons (papio cynocephalus) I. Variation in the strength of social bonds 

Joan B. Silk, Jeanne Altmann, Susan C. Alberts

Delayed dispersal as a potential route to cooperative breeding in ambrosia beetles 

Katharina Peer, Michael Taborsky

Exploring the effects of individual traits and within-colony variation on task differentiation and collective behavior in a desert social spider 

Carl N. Keiser, Devin K. Jones, Andreas P. Modlmeier, Jonathan N. Pruitt

Scaling of work and energy use in social insect colonies 

Jennifer H. Fewell, Jon F. Harrison

Social complexity, diet, and brain evolution: modeling the effects of colony size, worker size, brain size, and foraging behavior on colony fitness in ants 

Ofer Feinerman, James F. A. Traniello