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Division of labor occurs when cooperating individuals specialize to perform different tasks. In bacteria and other microorganisms, some species divide labor by random specialization, where an individual's role is determined by random fluctuations in biochemical reactions within the cell. Other species divide labor by coordinating across individuals to determine which cells will perform which task, using mechanisms such as between-cell signaling. However, previous theory, examining the evolution of mechanisms to divide labor between reproductives and sterile helpers, has only considered clonal populations, where there is no potential for conflict between individuals. We used a mixture of analytical and simulation models to examine nonclonal populations and found that: (a) intermediate levels of coordination can be favored, between the extreme of no coordination (random) and full coordination; (b) as relatedness decreases, coordinated division of labor is less likely to be favored. Our results can help explain why coordinated division of labor is relatively rare in bacteria, where groups may frequently be nonclonal.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecology and Evolution

Publication Date