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Collective behaviors, in which a large number of individuals exhibit some degree of behavioral synchronization, have been largely identified in Nature, in different systems and at different scales: from bacterial swarming to the great wildebeest migration, from locust swarms to sexual maturation in salmon. Intriguingly, however, such synchronization is typically imperfect, and some individuals remain ‘out-of-sync’ with the majority of the population. A compelling question then arises: is this widespread imperfect synchronization ecologically and evolutionarily meaningful, or are these ‘loner’ behaviors merely mistakes, with no avenue for selection to shape them? How does this imperfect coordination arise and impact the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of the system? In this presentation, I will provide the first empirical evidence that selection can act on loners, using the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, and show that they result from a heritable population-partitioning process. Then, using a mathematical model for the aggregation process, I will first propose a mechanistic explanation for such imperfectly synchronized multicellular development and then explore its possible implications for slime molds diversity.
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