, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 289–305 | Cite as

Comparative methods offer powerful insights into social evolution in bees

  • Sarah D. Kocher
  • Robert J. Paxton
Review article


Bees are excellent models for studying the evolution of sociality. While most species are solitary, many form social groups. The most complex form of social behavior, eusociality, has arisen independently four times within the bees. Subsequent elaborations of the reproductive division of labor inherent to eusociality have led to the evolution of some of the most highly advanced forms of eusociality documented. Likewise, many reversals back to solitary behavior also create substantial variation in sociality within the bees. These replicated, independent origins and losses enable a comparative approach that facilitates the search for common mechanisms underlying transitions from solitary to group living. In this review, we discuss the extensive behavioral variation found within the bees and highlight how the comparative method has improved our understanding of social evolution. Finally, we discuss potential difficulties with this approach and outline promising avenues for future research.


comparative method evolution communal semisocial eusocial genetics genomics 



We would like to thank M. Chapuisat for comments on a previous version of this manuscript, S. Rehan for her comments and insightful discussion on the evolution of social behavior in the Xylocopinae, and B. Danforth for sharing the latest bee phylogeny. We also thank the referees for many helpful suggestions. SDK was funded by a USDA NIFA postdoctoral fellowship and NSF IOS-1257543 and RJP by a Natural Environment Research Council grant and a Cornell University 3CPG grant.


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© INRA, DIB and Springer-Verlag France 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative ZoologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Institute for BiologyMartin-Luther-University Halle-WittenbergHalleGermany

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