Brood care and social evolution in termites

Judith Korb, Michael Buschmann, Saskia Schafberg, Juergen Liebig, Anne Geneviève Bagnères

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Cooperative brood care is assumed to be the common driving factor leading to sociality. While this seems to be true for social Hymenoptera and many cooperatively breeding vertebrates, the importance of brood care for the evolution of eusociality in termites is unclear. A first step in elucidating this problem is an assessment of the ancestral condition in termites. We investigated this by determining the overall level of brood care behaviour across four termite species that cover the phylogenetic diversity of the lower termites. Brood care was low in the three species (all from different families) that had an ancestral wood-dwelling lifestyle of living in a single piece of wood that serves as food and shelter. In the fourth species, a lower termite that evolved outside foraging, brood care was more common. Together with data for higher termites, this suggests that brood care in termites only becomes important when switching from a wood-dwelling to a foraging lifestyle. These results imply that early social evolution in termites was driven by benefits of increased defence, while eusociality in Hymenoptera and cooperative breeding in birds and mammals are primarily based on brood care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2662-2671
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1738
StatePublished - Jul 7 2012


  • Altruism
  • Brood care
  • Cooperatively breeding
  • Eusociality
  • Social evolution
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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