Task-switching costs promote the evolution of division of labor and shifts in individuality

Heather J. Goldsby, Anna Dornhaus, Benjamin Kerr, Charles Ofria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

From microbes to humans, the success of many organisms is achieved by dividing tasks among specialized group members. The evolution of such division of labor strategies is an important aspect of the major transitions in evolution. As such, identifying specific evolutionary pressures that give rise to group-level division of labor has become a topic of major interest among biologists. To overcome the challenges associated with studying this topic in natural systems, we use actively evolving populations of digital organisms, which provide a unique perspective on the de novo evolution of division of labor in an open-ended system. We provide experimental results that address a fundamental question regarding these selective pressures: Does the ability to improve group efficiency through the reduction of task-switching costs promote the evolution of division of labor? Our results demonstrate that as task-switching costs rise, groups increasingly evolve division of labor strategies. We analyze the mechanisms by which organisms coordinate their roles and discover strategies with striking biological parallels, including communication, spatial patterning, and task-partitioning behaviors. In many cases, under high task-switching costs, individuals cease to be able to perform tasks in isolation, instead requiring the context of other group members. The simultaneous loss of functionality at a lower level and emergence of new functionality at a higher level indicates that task-switching costs may drive both the evolution of division of labor and also the loss of lower-level autonomy, which are both key components of major transitions in evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13686-13691
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume109
Issue number34
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 21 2012

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Keywords

  • Digital evolution
  • Fraternal transition
  • Problem decomposition
  • Specialization
  • Task partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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