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Abstract

Species are often classified in discrete categories, such as solitary, subsocial, social and eusocial based on broad qualitative features of their social systems. Often, however, species fall between categories or species within a category may differ from one another in ways that beg for a quantitative measure of their sociality level. Here, we propose such a quantitative measure in the form of an index that is based on three fundamental features of a social system: (1) the fraction of the life cycle that individuals remain in their social group, (2) the proportion of nests in a population that contain multiple vs. solitary individuals and (3) the proportion of adult members of a group that do not reproduce, but contribute to communal activities. These are measures that should be quantifiable in most social systems, with the first two reflecting the tendencies of individuals to live in groups as a result of philopatry, grouping tendencies and intraspecific tolerance, and the third potentially reflecting the tendencies of individuals to exhibit reproductive altruism. We argue that this index can serve not only as a way of ranking species along a sociality scale, but also as a means of determining how level of sociality correlates with other aspects of the biology of a group of organisms. We illustrate the calculation of this index for the cooperative social spiders and the African mole-rats and use it to analyse how sex ratios and interfemale spacing correlate with level of sociality in spider species in the genus Anelosimus.