Deborah M. Gordon

‘Division of labor’ is a misleading way to describe the organization of tasks in social insect colonies, because there is little evidence for persistent individual specialization in task. Instead, task allocation in social insects occurs through distributed processes whose advantages, such as resilience, differ from those of division of labor, which are mostly based on learning. The use of the phrase ‘division of labor’ persists for historical reasons, and tends to focus attention on differences among individuals in internal attributes. This focus distracts from the main questions of interest in current research, which require an understanding of how individuals interact with each other and their environments. These questions include how colony behavior is regulated, how the regulation of colony behavior develops over the lifetime of a colony, what are the sources of variation among colonies in the regulation of behavior, and how the collective regulation of colony behavior evolves.