Social trajectories and the evolution of social behavior


  • S. Helms Cahan,

  • D. T. Blumstein,

  • L. Sundström,

  • J. Liebig,

  • A. Griffin

S. Helms Cahan, Dept of Biology, Arizona State Univ., USA (present address: Institut de Zoologie et d'Ecologie Animale. Université de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland []). – D. T. Blumstein, Dept of Psychology, Macquarie Univ., Sydney, Australia and Dept of Organismic Biology, Ecology & Evolution, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, USA. – L. Sundström, Dept of Ecology and Systematics, Div. of Population Biology, Univ. of Helsinki, Finland. – J. Liebig, Lehrstuhl für Verhaltensphysiologie und Soziobiologie, Univ. of Würzburg, Germany. – A. Griffin, Inst. of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, Univ. of Edinburgh, UK.


Current research on the evolution of sociality seeks to integrate a wealth of species-specific studies to draw more generalized conclusions. Developing a unified theory of social evolution has been a challenging process, hampered by the inherent complexity of social systems. By viewing a species’ social structure as the result of a series, or “trajectory”, of decisions individuals make about whether or not to disperse from their natal territory, whether to co-breed or refrain from breeding, and whether or not to provide alloparental care, we can more easily evaluate whether selective factors influencing each social decision are similar across taxa. At the same time, the social trajectory framework highlights the interrelationships among different social decisions, both throughout the life of an individual and over evolutionary time. There are likely to be multiple unifying themes within sociality research; we hope that the simple framework outlined here will promote exchange between researchers across taxonomic disciplines to begin to identify common principles.