Immunity and social evolution

Specific immune responses and some of the immune related phenomena that have been discussed earlier in this chapter will not only be beneficial in social insect colonies, but may also feedback on the evolution and maintenance of sociality. The costs and benefits of social behaviour were formulated into a rule by Hamilton (Hamilton, 1964a, 1964b). The terms factored into this rule could well be altered when taking into account specific immunity, immune priming, and parasites. A particular case that is likely to have a strong influence on the costs and benefits of sociality is the tailoring of immune responses to the prevailing environment, as is the case in trans-generational immune priming (Sadd et al., 2005; Sadd and Schmid-Hempel, 2007). If parasite pressure is heterogeneous across an environment, the immune capabilities bestowed on offspring will have been customized to the local environment, but will not be globally optimal. Due to this fact, dispersal away from the local parasite environment will be costly, as levels of defence will not match those that are required. This will mean there is an advantage of 'stay-at-home' behaviour, a prerequisite for the formation of social groups, such as those seen in social insects.

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