Journal of Biosciences

, 44:107 | Cite as

Genetic relatedness and its causal role in the evolution of insect societies

  • Tuomas K PernuEmail author
  • Heikki Helanterä


The role of genetic relatedness in social evolution has recently come under critical attention. These arguments are here critically analyzed, both theoretically and empirically. It is argued that when the conceptual structure of the theory of natural selection is carefully taken into account, genetic relatedness can be seen to play an indispensable role in the evolution of both facultative and advanced eusociality. Although reviewing the empirical evidence concerning the evolution of eusociality reveals that relatedness does not play a role in the initial appearance of helper phenotypes, this follows simply from the fact that natural selection – of which relatedness is a necessary component – does not play a causal role in the origin of any traits. Further, separating two logically distinct elements of causal explanation – necessity and sufficiency – explains why the debate lingers on: although relatedness plays a necessary role in the evolution of helping and advanced eusociality, relatedness alone is not sufficient for their appearance. Therefore, if the relatedness variable in a given data set is held at a uniformly high value, then it indeed may turn out that other factors occupy a more prominent role. However, this does not change the fact that high relatedness functions as a necessary background condition for the evolution of advanced eusociality.


Behavioral ecology causal explanation causal necessity causal sufficiency causation group selection inclusive fitness kin selection levels of selection models natural selection necessary conditions sociobiology 



We would like to thank Dr Neil Bell, Prof. Kristian Donner, Dr Luke Holman, Dr Gunther Jansen, Dr Jani Raerinne, Dr Isaac Salazar Ciudad, Dr Tobias Uller and an anonymous referee of the Journal of Biosciences for helpful comments and criticism on various versions of this article. This work has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland (grants #140990, #135970, #251337 and #284666) (HH), the Ella & Georg Ehrnrooth foundation (HH and TKP), the Emil Aaltonen Foundation (TKP), the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (TKP), Kone Foundation (HH and TKP) and the Waldemar von Frenckell Foundation (TKP).


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Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helsinki Collegium for Advanced StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Molecular and Integrative Biosciences Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research ProgrammeUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  5. 5.Ecology and Genetics Research UnitUniversity of OuluOuluFinland

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