University Of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

The thermal environment as a moderator of social evolution

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 01:12 authored by Jeanette Moss, Geoffrey WhileGeoffrey While
Animal sociality plays a crucial organisational role in evolution. As a result, understanding the factors that promote the emergence, maintenance, and diversification of animal societies is of great interest to biologists. Climate is among the foremost ecological factors implicated in evolutionary transitions in social organisation, but we are only beginning to unravel the possible mechanisms and specific climatic variables that underlie these associations. Ambient temperature is a key abiotic factor shaping the spatio-temporal distribution of individuals and has a particularly strong influence on behaviour. Whether such effects play a broader role in social evolution remains to be seen. In this review, we develop a conceptual framework for understanding how thermal effects integrate into pathways that mediate the opportunities, nature, and context of social interactions. We then implement this framework to discuss the capacity for temperature to initiate organisational changes across three broad categories of social evolution: group formation, group maintenance, and group elaboration. For each category, we focus on pivotal traits likely to have underpinned key social transitions and explore the potential for temperature to affect changes in these traits by leveraging empirical examples from the literature on thermal and behavioural ecology. Finally, we discuss research directions that should be prioritised to understand the potentially constructive and/or destructive effects of future warming on the origins, maintenance, and diversification of animal societies.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Biological Reviews






School of Natural Sciences


Cambridge Univ Press

Place of publication

40 West 20Th St, New York, USA, Ny, 10011-4211

Rights statement

© 2021 Cambridge Philosophical Society

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Understanding climate change not elsewhere classified; Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences