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Recent theory has overturned the assumption that accelerating returns from individual specialisation are required to favour the evolution of division of labour. Yanni et al. (2020) showed that topologically constrained groups, where cells cooperate with only direct neighbours such as for filaments or branching growths, can evolve a reproductive division of labour even with diminishing returns from individual specialisation. We develop a conceptual framework and specific models to investigate the factors that can favour the initial evolution of reproductive division of labour. We find that selection for division of labour in topologically constrained groups: (1) is not a single mechanism to favour division of labour - depending upon details of the group structure, division of labour can be favoured for different reasons; (2) always involves an efficiency benefit at the level of group fitness; and (3) requires a mechanism of coordination to determine which individuals perform which tasks. Given that such coordination must evolve prior to or concurrently with division of labour, this could limit the extent to which topological constraints favoured the initial evolution of division of labour. We conclude by suggesting experimental designs that could determine why division of labour is favoured in the natural world.

Original publication

DOI

10.7554/eLife.71968

Type

Journal article

Journal

Elife

Publication Date

29/10/2021

Volume

10

Keywords

evolutionary biology, none