Ecology of Social Evolution

pp 207-223

African Mole-Rats: Eusociality, Relatedness and Ecological Constraints

  • M. Justin O'RiainAffiliated withZoology Department, University of Cape Town
  • , Chris G. FaulkesAffiliated withSchool of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of London

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Within the family of African mole-rats (Bathyergidae) there is a range of lifestyles from strictly solitary to eusocial. This variation correlates strongly with numerous ecological factors providing evidence in support of an ecological basis for the evolutionary inception and maintenance of sociality in mole-rats. Furthermore, recent studies on the relatedness of individuals both within and between neighboring colonies of social mole-rats suggest that previous arguments that expounded the importance of relatedness to the evolution of sociality were misleading. A close look at arguably the only eusocial mammal known to science, the naked mole-rat, provides a unique opportunity to study the similarities in the selective environment of insects and mammals without the associated phylogenetic noise of a close common ancestry. In addition, striking examples of convergent evolution between naked molerats and eusocial insects provides insight into why there are so few eusocial vertebrates.