Indiscriminate care of offspring predates the evolution of sociality in alloparenting social spiders


Alloparental carethe care of others offspring is a key aspect of sociality in many groups of animals. Understanding how this complex behavior arises requires identifying both the selective forces that may favor it, as well as characteristics of particular lineages that facilitate or hinder its evolution. One potential hindrance is the existence of discrimination against foreign offspring, an obstacle that would need to be overcome in order for alloparental care to evolve. In this study, we explored whether offspring discrimination may have constrained the evolution of alloparental care in social spiders in the genus Anelosimus. Social spiders are known for their cooperative behaviors, which include alloparental care. After quantitatively assessing the extent of alloparenting in the care of egg sacs in natural nests of these spiders, we investigated whether discrimination against foreign egg sacs existed in ancestral pre-social species in the genus. We did so by testing for discrimination between a females own and foreign egg sacs in three subsocial sister taxa of each social species investigated. We found no detectable evidence of discrimination in the care of egg sacs by female Anelosimus, regardless of level of sociality. We used these data, along with those from previous studies, to infer that a lack of discrimination is likely the ancestral state in the genus Anelosimus. This supports the idea that offspring discrimination was not a constraint on the evolution of alloparental care in social Anelosimus species. We discuss the evolutionary implications of this finding, and suggest that lack of offspring discrimination may have eased the transition from solitary to cooperative breeding.

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology