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Social Interactions, Environmental Variation, and Evolution (SIEVE)

Social interactions are an important source of selective pressures that drive the evolution life-history strategies and phenotypic traits. When individuals interact, interests governed by the benefits of the interaction to each player will rarely overlap perfectly. Selection from these interactions can drive the evolution of extreme cooperation as well as highly antagonistic co-evolutionary arms races which are tightly linked to fitness. Such conflicts can generate strong selection on both cooperative and selfish behaviors and the level of conflict is often affected by the environment (social or ecological) which produces shifts in social behavior. Social selection can thus have important effects on adaptation and population dynamics. A key feature of our research on social interactions is to understand the evolutionary dynamics of social strategies and social signals that result from a tension between cooperation and conflict during interactions. Selection from social interactions should cause evolution of social signals and social strategies, which in turn will create a new selective landscape that will affect social interactions. This highly dynamic evolutionary feedback could generate highly integrated social systems and influence adaptation. Strong social selection could drive rapid divergence among strategies within a population and among populations thus contributing to the generation of biodiversity. While our understanding of social interactions is improving, we still know very little about dynamic selection and the evolutionary feedback potential of social interactions that could generate rapid evolution and divergence. A second major axis of our research is to understand how external influences affect the nature of social interactions. Social dynamics are often influenced by the ecological or social context since these conditions can shift the costs and benefits of life history decisions and social interactions. Thus the effect of social selection should vary considerably across space and time either directly through different social contexts or indirectly through environmental influences on behaviors and interactions. Plasticity in social behavior coupled with variable local environments could modify evolutionary trajectories and either slow or accelerate divergence and speciation. Studies of social interactions have largely focused on the nature of interactions themselves and few have examined the influence of external factors on these relationships. We use both observational (among population) and experimental approaches to examine the context- or environment-dependent nature of social interactions.

Contact : Alexis CHAINE