The evolution of multicellularity has given rise to a remarkable diversity of multicellular life cycles and life histories. Whereas some multicellular organisms are long-lived, grow through cell division, and repeatedly release single-celled propagules (for example, animals), others are short-lived, form by aggregation, and propagate only once, by generating large numbers of solitary cells (for example, cellular slime moulds). There are no systematic studies that explore how diverse multicellular life cycles can come about. Here, we focus on the origin of multicellularity and develop a mechanistic model to examine the primitive life cycles that emerge from a unicellular ancestor when an ancestral gene is co-opted for cell adhesion. Diverse life cycles readily emerge, depending on ecological conditions, group-forming mechanism, and ancestral constraints. Among these life cycles, we recapitulate both extremes of long-lived groups that propagate continuously and short-lived groups that propagate only once, with the latter type of life cycle being particularly favoured when groups can form by aggregation. Our results show how diverse life cycles and life histories can easily emerge at the origin of multicellularity, shaped by ancestral constraints and ecological conditions. Beyond multicellularity, this finding has similar implications for other major transitions, such as the evolution of sociality.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics