Models of division of labor in social insects

S. N. Beshers, J. H. Fewell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

664 Scopus citations


Division of labor is one of the most basic and widely studied aspects of colony behavior in social insects. Studies of division of labor are concerned with the integration of individual worker behavior into colony level task organization and with the question of how regulation of division of labor may contribute to colony efficiency. Here we describe and critique the current models concerned with the proximate causes of division of labor in social insects. The models have identified various proximate mechanisms to explain division of labor, based on both internal and external factors. On the basis of these factors, we suggest a classification of the models. We first describe the different types of models and then review the empirical evidence supporting them. The models to date may be considered preliminary and exploratory; they have advanced our understanding by suggesting possible mechanisms for division of labor and by revealing how individual and colony-level behavior may be related. They suggest specific hypotheses that can be tested by experiment and so may lead to the development of more powerful and integrative explanatory models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-440
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Foraging for work
  • Polyethism
  • Response threshold models
  • Self-organization
  • Self-reinforcement
  • Social inhibition
  • Task allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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