The importance of individual-to-society feedbacks in animal ecology and evolution

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Mauricio Cantor, Adriana Maldonado-Chaparro, Kristina Beck, Hanja Brandl, Gerald Carter, Peng He, Friederike Hillemann, James Klarevas-Irby, Mina Ogino, Danai Papageorgiou


1. The social decisions that individuals make—who to interact with and how frequently—gives rise to social structure. The resulting social structure then determines how individuals interact with their surroundings—resources and risks, pathogens and predators, competitors and cooperators.
2. However, despite intensive research on (i) how individuals make social decisions and (ii) how social structure shapes social processes (e.g. cooperation, competition and conflict), there are still few studies linking these two perspectives. These perspectives represent two halves of a feedback loop: individual behaviour scales up to define the social environment, and this environment, in turn, feeds back by shaping the selective agents that drive individual behaviour.
3. We first review well-established research areas that have captured both elements of this feedback loop—host-pathogen dynamics and cultural transmission. We then highlight areas where social structure is well studied but the two perspectives remain largely disconnected. Finally, we synthesise existing research on 14 distinct research topics to identify new prospects where the interplay between social structure and social processes are likely to be important but remain largely unexplored.
4. Our review shows that the inherent links between individuals’ traits, their social decisions, social structure, and social evolution, warrant more consideration. By mapping the existing and missing connections among many research areas, our review highlights where explicitly considering social structure and the individual-to-society feedbacks can reveal new dimensions to old questions in ecology and evolution.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences


Cooperation, fitness, group-living, individual differences, social evolution, social network analysis, Social structure, Social transmission


Published: 2019-05-14 03:07

Last Updated: 2021-01-18 05:29

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