The evolution and development of complex phenotypes in social insect colonies, such as queen-worker dimorphism or division of labor, can, in our opinion, only be fully understood within an expanded mechanistic framework of Developmental Evolution. Conversely, social insects offer a fertile research area in which fundamental questions of Developmental Evolution can be addressed empirically. We review the concept of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that aims to fully describe the battery of interacting genomic modules that are differentially expressed during the development of individual organisms. We discuss how distinct types of network models have been used to study different levels of biological organization in social insects, from GRNs to social networks. We propose that these hierarchical networks spanning different organizational levels from genes to societies should be integrated and incorporated into full GRN models to elucidate the evolutionary and developmental mechanisms underlying social insect phenotypes. Finally, we discuss prospects and approaches to achieve such an integration.
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