Ant collective behavior is heritable and shaped by selection

Justin T. Walsh, Simon Garnier, Timothy A. Linksvayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Collective behaviors are widespread in nature and usually assumed to be strongly shaped by natural selection. However, the degree to which variation in collective behavior is heritable and has fitness consequences—the two prerequisites for evolution by natural selection—is largely unknown. We used a new pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis) mapping population to estimate the heritability, genetic correlations, and fitness consequences of three collective behaviors (foraging, aggression, and exploration), as well as of body size, sex ratio, and caste ratio. Heritability estimates for the collective behaviors were moderate, ranging from 0.17 to 0.32, but lower than our estimates for the heritability of caste ratio, sex ratio, and body size of new workers, queens, and males. Moreover, variation in collective behaviors among colonies was phenotypically correlated, suggesting that selection may shape multiple colony collective behaviors simultaneously. Finally, we found evidence for directional selection that was similar in strength to estimates of selection in natural populations. Altogether, our study begins to elucidate the genetic architecture of collective behavior and is one of the first studies to demonstrate that it is shaped by selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-554
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Animal personality
  • Caste ratio
  • Collective behavior
  • Genetic correlation
  • Heritability
  • Selection


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