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Benefits of cooperation with genetic kin in a subsocial spider

Schneider, J.M., Bilde, T.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2008 v.105 no.31 pp. 10843-10846
Araneae, insect behavior, social behavior, predator-prey relationships, predation, feeding behavior, progeny
Interaction within groups exploiting a common resource may be prone to cheating by selfish actions that result in disadvantages for all members of the group, including the selfish individuals. Kin selection is one mechanism by which such dilemmas can be resolved This is because selfish acts toward relatives include the cost of lowering indirect fitness benefits that could otherwise be achieved through the propagation of shared genes. Kin selection theory has been proved to be of general importance for the origin of cooperative behaviors, but other driving forces, such as direct fitness benefits, can also promote helping behavior in many cooperatively breeding taxa. Investigating transitional systems is therefore particularly suitable for understanding the influence of kin selection on the initial spread of cooperative behaviors. Here we investigated the role of kinship in cooperative feeding. We used a cross-fostering design to control for genetic relatedness and group membership. Our study animal was the periodic social spider Stegodyphus lineatus, a transitional species that belongs to a genus containing both permanent social and periodic social species. In S. lineatus, the young cooperate in prey capture and feed communally. We provide clear experimental evidence for net benefits of cooperating with kin. Genetic relatedness within groups and not association with familiar individuals directly improved feeding efficiency and growth rates, demonstrating a positive effect of kin cooperation. Hence, in communally feeding spiders, nepotism favors group retention and reduces the conflict between selfish interests and the interests of the group.