Metabolic division of labor in social insects

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Matteo A Negroni, Adria C LeBoeuf 


Social insects are known for reproductive and behavioral division of labor, but little attention has been paid to metabolic forms of division of labor. Metabolic division of labor is the partitioning of complementary metabolic tasks between individuals, and it is widespread in social insects. We define two forms of metabolic division of labor, homosynergetic and heterosynergetic, we pinpoint trophallaxis, trophic eggs and cannibalism as the primary transfers underlying the homosynergetic form and discuss their evolution. We argue that homosynergetic metabolic division of labor underpins fundamental aspects of colony physiology and may be a necessary feature of superorganismal systems, impacting many life history traits. Investigating metabolic division of labor is necessary to understand major evolutionary transition(s) to superorganismality in social insects.



Life Sciences


social insects, metabolism, division of labor, cross-feeding, auxotrophy, social physiology, superorganism


Published: 2023-01-14 06:11

Last Updated: 2023-05-11 11:20

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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