Developmental plasticity may accelerate the evolution of phenotypic novelty through genetic accommodation, but studies of genetic accommodation often lack knowledge of the ancestral state to place selected traits in an evolutionary context. A promising approach for assessing genetic accommodation involves using a comparative framework to ask whether ancestral plasticity is related to the evolution of a particular trait. Bees are an excellent group for such comparisons because caste-based societies (eusociality) have evolved multiple times independently and extant species exhibit different modes of eusociality. We measured brain and abdominal gene expression in a facultatively eusocial bee, Megalopta genalis, and assessed whether plasticity in this species is functionally linked to eusocial traits in other bee lineages. Caste-biased abdominal genes in M. genalis overlapped significantly with caste-biased genes in obligately eusocial bees. Moreover, caste-biased genes in M. genalis overlapped significantly with genes shown to be rapidly evolving in multiple studies of 10 bee species, particularly for genes in the glycolysis pathway and other genes involved in metabolism. These results provide support for the idea that eusociality can evolve via genetic accommodation, with plasticity in facultatively eusocial species like M. genalis providing a substrate for selection during the evolution of caste in obligately eusocial lineages.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3649898.
- Received October 12, 2016.
- Accepted December 5, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.