Epistasis arising from physiological interactions between gene products often contributes to species differences, particularly those involved in reproductive isolation. In social organisms, phenotypes are influenced by the genotypes of multiple interacting individuals. In theory, social interactions can give rise to an additional type of epistasis between the genomes of social partners that can contribute to species differences. Using a full-factorial cross-fostering design with three species of closely related Temnothorax ants, I found that adult worker size was determined by an interaction between the genotypes of developing brood and care-giving workers, i.e. intergenomic epistasis. Such intergenomic social epistasis provides a strong signature of coevolution between social partners. These results demonstrate that just as physiologically interacting genes coevolve, diverge, and contribute to species differences, so do socially interacting genes. Coevolution and conflict between social partners, especially relatives such as parents and offspring, has long been recognized as having widespread evolutionary effects. This coevolutionary process may often result in coevolved socially-interacting gene complexes that contribute to species differences.
Linksvayer, T. A. (2007). Ant species differences determined by epistasis between brood and worker genomes. PLoS ONE, 2(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000994