The evolution of cooperation and altruistic behaviour where individuals forego their own reproduction to help others reproduce can be explained by kin selection. Depending on the costs and benefits provided, altruism can be evolutionarily favoured if it is directed at close relatives. A considerable body of data supports the role of relatedness as a key determinant of cooperation and conflict within societies. However, the role of ecological factors and, in particular, how these costs and benefits interact with relatedness remains poorly understood. By studying 16 colonies, here I show that in a drywood termite ecological factors determine the importance of relatedness. In colonies with limited food supply, nestmates restrict cooperative interactions mainly to close relatives, while non-discriminative cooperation occurs when food is abundant. This shows for the first time directly the interaction between ecological conditions and relatedness in shaping cooperation.

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