How does temperature mediate social evolution?

Social behaviour and climate have often been considered close evolutionary bedfellows. Indeed, climate is implicated as one of the foremost ecological factors that underpins evolutionary transitions in social organisation. Despite this, we are only beginning to unravel the mechanisms by which specific climatic variables mediate social evolution. Temperature is particularly important in this context, not only because it is perhaps the most important abiotic factor for determining the the distribution of organisms and their behaviour, but also because temperature regimes are predicted to change drastically over the coming decades.

In a new paper, just out in Biological Reviews, Jen and Geoff develop a framework for understanding the role that temperature may have played in the evolution of social organisation. They argue that variation in the thermal environment can trigger behavioural, physiology and neuroendocrinological responses that, along with thermally mediate changes in the abiotic and biotic environment, can strongly influence how individuals interact with one another. They then implement this framework to show that such responses can have both constructive and destructive effects on social grouping across three major stages of social evolution; group formation, group maintenance, and group elaboration. They hope that this provides a conceptual foundation from which new, targeted, research can be undertaken that will enhance our understanding of how climate may have shaped the diversity of social life across historical time scales but also how such social life may be impacted by changes in climate over the coming decades. Check out the full story below – or if you are visually orientated – check out the neat conceptual diagram!

Moss, J. B. and While, G. M. (2021) The thermal environment as a moderator of social evolution. Biological Reviews

Conceptual framework illustrating pathways through which temperature-mediated shifts in social interactions could scale to affect social evolutionary processes.