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Progress in sociobiology continues to be hindered by abstract debates over methodology and the relative importance of within-group vs. between-group selection. We need concrete biological examples to ground discussions in empirical data. Recent work argued that the levels of aggression in social spider colonies are explained by group-level adaptation. Here, we examine this conclusion using models that incorporate ecological detail while remaining consistent with kin- and multilevel selection frameworks. We show that although levels of aggression are driven, in part, by between-group selection, incorporating universal within-group competition provides a striking fit to the data that is inconsistent with pure group-level adaptation. Instead, our analyses suggest that aggression is favoured primarily as a selfish strategy to compete for resources, despite causing lower group foraging efficiency or higher risk of group extinction. We argue that sociobiology will benefit from a pluralistic approach and stronger links between ecologically informed models and data.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecol Lett

Publication Date





873 - 879


AIC, Adaptation, Anelosimus studiosus, animal personality, competition, group selection, inclusive fitness, information theoretic, kin selection, model-based inference, Adaptation, Physiological, Aggression, Animals, Ecosystem, Models, Biological, Selection, Genetic, Social Behavior, Spiders