When being flexible matters: Ecological underpinnings for the evolution of collective flexibility and task allocation

Merlijn Staps, Corina E. Tarnita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

SignificanceA central problem in evolutionary biology is explaining variation in the organization of task allocation across collective systems. Why do human cells irreversibly adopt a task during development (e.g., kidney vs. liver cell), while sponge cells switch between different cell types? And why have only some ant species evolved specialized castes of workers for particular tasks? Although it seems reasonable to suppose that such differences reflect, at least partially, the different ecological pressures that systems face, there is no general understanding of how a system's dynamic environment shapes its task allocation. To this end, we develop a general mathematical framework that reveals how simple ecological considerations could potentially explain cross-system variation in task allocation-including in flexibility, specialization, and (in)activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2116066119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume119
Issue number18
DOIs
StatePublished - May 3 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • division of labor
  • environmental variability
  • specialization
  • task allocation
  • task switching

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