Social complexity and brain evolution: comparative analysis of modularity and integration in ant brain organization

J. Frances Kamhi*, Iulian Ilieş, James F. A. Traniello

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    The behavioral demands of living in social groups have been linked to the evolution of brain size and structure, but how social organization shapes investment and connectivity within and among functionally specialized brain regions remains unclear. To understand the influence of sociality on brain evolution in ants, a premier clade of eusocial insects, we statistically analyzed patterns of brain region size covariation as a proxy for brain region connectivity. We investigated brain structure covariance in young and old workers of two formicine ants, the Australasian weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina, a pinnacle of social complexity in insects, and its socially basic sister clade Formica subsericea. As previously identified in other ant species, we predicted that our analysis would recognize in both species an olfaction-related brain module underpinning social information processing in the brain, and a second neuroanatomical cluster involved in nonolfactory sensorimotor processes, thus reflecting conservation of compartmental connectivity. Furthermore, we hypothesized that covariance patterns would reflect divergence in social organization and life histories either within this species pair or compared to other ant species. Contrary to our predictions, our covariance analyses revealed a weakly defined visual, rather than olfactory, sensory processing cluster in both species. This pattern may be linked to the reliance on vision for worker behavioral performance outside of the nest and the correlated expansion of the optic lobes to meet navigational demands in both species. Additionally, we found that colony size and social organization, key measures of social complexity, were only weakly correlated with brain modularity in these formicine ants. Worker age also contributed to variance in brain organization, though in different ways in each species. These findings suggest that brain organization may be shaped by the divergent life histories of the two study species. We compare our findings with patterns of brain organization of other eusocial insects.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4-18
    Number of pages15
    JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


    • Brain mapping
    • Conditional dependence
    • Division of labor
    • Mushroom body


    Dive into the research topics of 'Social complexity and brain evolution: comparative analysis of modularity and integration in ant brain organization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this