Ecological facilitation may drive major evolutionary transitions

Zaal Kikvidze, Ragan M. Callaway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a growing consensus among ecologists that ecological facilitation comprises a historically overlooked but crucial suite of biotic interactions. Awareness of such positive interactions has recently led to substantial modifications in ecological theory. In this article we suggest how facilitation may be included in evolutionary theory. Natural selection based on competition provides a conceptually complete paradigm for speciation, but not for major evolutionary transitions-the emergence of new and more complex biological structures such as cells, organisms, and eusocial populations. We find that the successful theories developed to solve these specific problematic transitions show a consistent pattern: they focus on positive interactions. We argue that facilitation between individuals at different levels of biological organization can act as a cohesive force that generates a new level of organization with higher complexity and thus allows for major evolutionary transitions at all levels of biological hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-404
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Biological complexity
  • Biological hierarchy
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Positive biotic interactions
  • Speciation

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