Ecology and multilevel selection explain aggression in spider colonies.
Biernaskie JM., Foster KR.
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.