Investigating local-scale interactions within a network makes it possible to test hypotheses about the mechanisms of global network connectivity and to ask whether there are general rules underlying network function across systems. Here we use motif analysis to determine whether the interactions within social insect colonies resemble the patterns exhibited by other animal associations or if they exhibit characteristics of biological regulatory systems. Colonies exhibit a predominance of feed-forward interaction motifs, in contrast to the densely interconnected clique patterns that characterize human interaction and animal social networks. The regulatory motif signature supports the hypothesis that social insect colonies are shaped by selection for network patterns that integrate colony functionality at the group rather than individual level, and demonstrates the utility of this approach for analysis of selection effects on complex systems across biological levels of organization.
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