Division of labor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Division of labor is one of the key attributes of social organization, and is considered an underlying reason for the ecological success of eusocial insects. Rather than an absolute attribute, division of labor can be measured as the degree to which different individuals within a social group show bias or specialization on different tasks. From this perspective, virtually all social groups show some degree of division of labor. Division of labor is often divided into two general categories. The first is reproductive division of labor; the partitioning of a social group into a small set of reproductive specialists, with non-reproducing workers helping them. The second is division of labor for all other tasks involved in colony growth and maintenance. Eusocial colonies are known for task specialization, but some level of division of labor for non-reproductive tasks appears in a broad range of social groups, including communal systems of unrelated individuals. It can even emerge in artificial groups of normally solitary insects. The mechanisms generating division of labor range from simple self-organizational mechanisms based on individual biases towards or away from some tasks, to adaptively regulated mechanisms, including genetically based differences in task preferences; age-based task specialization; and physiological, and morphological variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Animal Behavior
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780128132517
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Age polyethism
  • Division of labor
  • Eusociality
  • Foraging for work
  • Genetic task specialization
  • Morphological caste
  • Reproductive caste
  • Reproductive division of labor
  • Response threshold model
  • Self-organization
  • Task specialization
  • Worker castes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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