Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 8, pp 1275–1284 | Cite as

Indiscriminate care of offspring predates the evolution of sociality in alloparenting social spiders

  • Kieran Samuk
  • Leticia Avilés
Original Paper


Alloparental care—the care of other’s offspring—is a key aspect of sociality in many groups of animals. Understanding how this complex behavior arises requires identifying both the selective forces that may favor it, as well as characteristics of particular lineages that facilitate or hinder its evolution. One potential hindrance is the existence of discrimination against foreign offspring, an obstacle that would need to be overcome in order for alloparental care to evolve. In this study, we explored whether offspring discrimination may have constrained the evolution of alloparental care in social spiders in the genus Anelosimus. Social spiders are known for their cooperative behaviors, which include alloparental care. After quantitatively assessing the extent of alloparenting in the care of egg sacs in natural nests of these spiders, we investigated whether discrimination against foreign egg sacs existed in ancestral pre-social species in the genus. We did so by testing for discrimination between a female’s own and foreign egg sacs in three subsocial sister taxa of each social species investigated. We found no detectable evidence of discrimination in the care of egg sacs by female Anelosimus, regardless of level of sociality. We used these data, along with those from previous studies, to infer that a lack of discrimination is likely the ancestral state in the genus Anelosimus. This supports the idea that offspring discrimination was not a constraint on the evolution of alloparental care in social Anelosimus species. We discuss the evolutionary implications of this finding, and suggest that lack of offspring discrimination may have eased the transition from solitary to cooperative breeding.


Alloparental care Co-option Adoption Sociality Maternal care Anelosimus 



Funding was provided by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant to L.A (261354-2008 RGPI). K.S. was additionally supported by an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship (Master’s) award (2009–2010). The staff of SIMBIOE and El Ministerio del Ambiente de Ecuador assisted greatly with logistics and obtaining permits. The associates of Reserva Ecólogica Antisana, Estacion Biológica Jatun Sacha, and Bellavista Cloudforest Reserve all provided fantastic general assistance and field support. Maurico Vega and Gabriel Iturralde provided valuable field and spider identification assistance. Members of the Zoology Department at UBC provided valuable comments on the manuscript. Two anonymous reviewers provided many detailed suggestions that improved the manuscript greatly.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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