Meeting Abstract

S9-2  Sunday, Jan. 8 08:00 - 08:30  From individual to group-level variation in cooperative behaviors and complex societies RUBENSTEIN, DR; Columbia University

Attempts to study the developmental and proximate mechanisms underlying social behavior in animals have emphasized a series of proximate pathways that influence individual traits such as pro- and anti-social behaviors. However, to understand the mechanistic bases of more complex cooperative behaviors like the formation of societies, we must also consider how these individual traits can influence the traits of the social group, such as dominance rank and reproductive structure. Using examples from three diverse cooperative systems—birds, insects and crustaceans—I will develop a framework for linking mechanism with both individual and group-level traits. First, I will discuss how early life conditions influence fitness later in life in cooperatively breeding starlings living in an unpredictable environment in Africa. I will show how among-year variation in rainfall is related to DNA methylation in the regulatory region of the glucocorticoid receptor during development and the likelihood of breeding in adulthood. Next, I will discuss how environmental conditions and the likelihood of interspecific competition interact to influence within-species variation in cooperative behavior at the level of the group in burying beetles sampled along an ecological gradient in Taiwan. Finally, I will detail how different forms of social organization in eusocial snapping shrimp represent alternative evolutionary trajectories and discuss how individual pro-social behaviors may influence these patterns. By contrasting the approaches that researchers often take in vertebrate and invertebrate study systems, I will argue that we need to consider both individual and group-level variation in social traits and social structure if we are to understand the mechanistic bases of complex social behaviors in animals.